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Brain Res. 2013 Jul 3;1520:107-15. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2013.05.014. Epub 2013 May 15.

The fate of object memory traces under change detection and change blindness.

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Institute of Medical Psychology, Charité-Universitätsmedizin, Berlin, Germany.


Observers often fail to detect substantial changes in a visual scene. This so-called change blindness is often taken as evidence that visual representations are sparse and volatile. This notion rests on the assumption that the failure to detect a change implies that representations of the changing objects are lost all together. However, recent evidence suggests that under change blindness, object memory representations may be formed and stored, but not retrieved. This study investigated the fate of object memory representations when changes go unnoticed. Participants were presented with scenes consisting of real world objects, one of which changed on each trial, while recording event-related potentials (ERPs). Participants were first asked to localize where the change had occurred. In an additional recognition task, participants then discriminated old objects, either from the pre-change or the post-change scene, from entirely new objects. Neural traces of object memories were studied by comparing ERPs for old and novel objects. Participants performed poorly in the detection task and often failed to recognize objects from the scene, especially pre-change objects. However, a robust old/novel effect was observed in the ERP, even when participants were change blind and did not recognize the old object. This implicit memory trace was found both for pre-change and post-change objects. These findings suggest that object memories are stored even under change blindness. Thus, visual representations may not be as sparse and volatile as previously thought. Rather, change blindness may point to a failure to retrieve and use these representations for change detection.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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