Attending to Original Object Location Facilitates Visual Memory

Attending to Original Object Location
Facilitates Visual Memory Retrieval
David L. Sacks & Andrew Hollingworth
Department of Psychology, University of Iowa
Scene, 12 s
In a pilot experiment conducted for the present study, participants
viewed objects in real-world scenes. After viewing, memory for the
visual form of an object was tested, and the test object was displayed
either in its original location or in a different location within the scene.
In the different location condition, participants fixated the empty
original location on approximately 32% of trials. Memory performance
was not improved when the original location was fixated, consistent
with Spivey & Geng (2001). However, such post-hoc analyses of
fixation position cannot directly test the hypothesis that attending to
object location facilitates memory retrieval, as participants might only
fixate the original location when having difficulty performing the task.
In Exp. 2, the original location advantage could have been due to the availability of
local contextual information when participants fixated the original location.
Exp. 2 required participants to move their eyes at test either to the original object
location or to an equivalently distant location on the other side of the scene.
Exp. 3 eliminated local contextual information at test by obscuring scene information
at both the original and different locations. Otherwise, the method was the same as in
Exp. 2.
Fixation, 1000 ms
Events at Test
Test, until response
Orig. Location Cue
Orig. Location Cue
Kahneman et al. (1992) proposed an “object file” framework of visual
perception. In this view, objects are primarily indexed by their
location at a particular time, and not by their physical properties or
identifying labels. Access to an object’s properties is thought to be
dependent on attending to the indexed location. Hollingworth and
Henderson (2002) argued that this type of position-based structure
extends to memory for visual objects in scenes.
Initial evidence for position-based structure in visual memory comes
from work monitoring eye movements. Spivey and Geng (2001)
found that when making a decision about a removed object,
participants often fixated the empty location where the object had
originally appeared. Spivey and Geng argued that participants
automatically attended to the spatial index originally established for
the object. However, they did not find that memory performance was
facilitated by fixating the original object location.
In Exp. 1, the eye movement advantage could have been due to the ability to make
eye movements rather than the ability to fixate the original object location.
Test Scene,
500 ms
Mirror Reversed
Location Cue,
300 ms
Eye Movement: Subjects were given free viewing of the test scene
before making their response, allowing them to fixate the original
location of the object.
Test Scene,
1200 ms
Object Alone,
until response
Eye Movement
No Eye Movement
p < .05
No Eye Movement: Subjects were required to maintain fixation on the
central object within the test scene before making their response,
preventing them from fixating the original location of the object.
Hypothesis: If object information is bound to scene spatial locations,
we should find a position-based retrieval effect, in which subjects are
more accurate at detecting visual changes to a moved object when
allowed to fixate that object’s original location in the scene.
Original Location
Different Location
Despite the absence of local contextual information at test, memory
performance was reliably more accurate when participants fixated the
original location versus a different location.
p < .05
Experiment 1: Results
Original Location
Different Location
These results support the hypothesis that visual representations of
objects in scenes are bound in memory to the scene locations where
the objects were originally viewed (Hollingworth & Henderson, 2002).
p < .05
Fixating original object location provides a strong cue for retrieval of
the visual information bound to that location.
Goal: Determine if attending to an object’s original location facilitates
memory retrieval by experimentally manipulating fixation of the object’s
original location at test.
Two Conditions:
Overview of Present Study
Diff. Location Cue
Diff. Location Cue
It has long been known that attention plays a critical role in the
transfer of perceptual information into memory. The present study
examined whether attention plays a complementary role in the
retrieval of visual information from memory. Specifically, we tested
the hypothesis that visual object representations are bound to scene
locations in memory, and that attending to an object’s location
facilitates the retrieval of object information bound to that location
(Hollingworth & Henderson, 2002).
Experiment 3
Experiment 2
Experiment 1
Memory performance was reliably more accurate when eye
movements were allowed at test.
In the eye movement condition, the original object location was fixated
at test on 30% of trials.
Memory performance was reliably more accurate when participants
fixated the original location versus a different location.
Hollingworth, A., & Henderson, J. M. (2002). Accurate visual memory for previously attended objects in natural
scenes. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 28, 113-136.
Kahneman, D., Treisman, A., & Gibbs, B. J. (1992). The reviewing of object files: object-specific integration of
information. Cognitive Psychology, 24, 175-219.
Spivey, M. J., & Geng, J. J. (2001). Oculomotor mechanisms activated by imagery and memory: eye
movements to absent objects. Psychological Research, 65, 235-241.
This research was funded by NIMH R03 MH65456.