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Psychol Sci. 2019 May;30(5):657-668. doi: 10.1177/0956797619836093. Epub 2019 Mar 21.

Memories Fade: The Relationship Between Memory Vividness and Remembered Visual Salience.

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Department of Psychology, Boston College.


Past events, particularly emotional experiences, are often vividly recollected. However, it remains unclear how qualitative information, such as low-level visual salience, is reconstructed and how the precision and bias of this information relate to subjective memory vividness. Here, we tested whether remembered visual salience contributes to vivid recollection. In three experiments, participants studied emotionally negative and neutral images that varied in luminance and color saturation, and they reconstructed the visual salience of each image in a subsequent test. Results revealed, unexpectedly, that memories were recollected as less visually salient than they were encoded, demonstrating a novel memory-fading effect, whereas negative emotion increased subjective memory vividness and the precision with which visual features were encoded. Finally, memory vividness tracked both the precision and remembered salience (bias) of visual information. These findings provide evidence that low-level visual information fades in memory and contributes to the experience of vivid recollection.


emotion; episodic memory; memory precision; open data; preregistered; recollection; visual salience


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