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J Vis. 2014 Jul 11;14(8):10. doi: 10.1167/14.8.10.

Seek and you shall remember: scene semantics interact with visual search to build better memories.

Author information

Ludwig-Maximilians University, Munich, Germany.
Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, USABrigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA.
Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, USABrigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA, USAJohann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt, Germany.


Memorizing critical objects and their locations is an essential part of everyday life. In the present study, incidental encoding of objects in naturalistic scenes during search was compared to explicit memorization of those scenes. To investigate if prior knowledge of scene structure influences these two types of encoding differently, we used meaningless arrays of objects as well as objects in real-world, semantically meaningful images. Surprisingly, when participants were asked to recall scenes, their memory performance was markedly better for searched objects than for objects they had explicitly tried to memorize, even though participants in the search condition were not explicitly asked to memorize objects. This finding held true even when objects were observed for an equal amount of time in both conditions. Critically, the recall benefit for searched over memorized objects in scenes was eliminated when objects were presented on uniform, non-scene backgrounds rather than in a full scene context. Thus, scene semantics not only help us search for objects in naturalistic scenes, but appear to produce a representation that supports our memory for those objects beyond intentional memorization.


eye movements; object memory; scene perception; scene search; scene semantics; task dependent representations

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