Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Binding Actions and Scenes in Visual Long-Term Memory

Academic journal article Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

Binding Actions and Scenes in Visual Long-Term Memory

Article excerpt

Published online: 8 May 2013

# Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Abstract How does visual long-term memory store representations of different entities (e.g., objects, actions, and scenes) that are present in the same visual event? Are the different entities stored as an integrated representation in memory, or are they stored separately? To address this question, we asked observers to view a large number of events; in each event, an action was performed within a scene. Afterward, the participants were shown pairs of action-scene sets and indicated which of the two they had seen. When the task required recognizing the individual actions and scenes, performance was high (80 %). Conversely, when the task required remembering which actions had occurred within which scenes, performance was significantly lower (59 %). We observed this dissociation between memory for individual entities and memory for entity bindings across multiple testing conditions and presentation durations. These experiments indicate that visual long-term memory stores information about actions and information about scenes separately from one another, even when an action and scene were observed together in the same visual event. These findings also highlight an important limitation of human memory: Situations that require remembering actions and scenes as integrated events (e.g., eyewitness testimony) may be particularly vulnerable to memory errors.

Keywords Visual long-term memory . Action memory . Scene memory . Event memory . Binding

Using visual information to guide behavior requires a long- term memory mechanism, known as visual long-term memory (VLTM), that maintains the information over time. Previous studies have shown that VLTM has a large and detailed storage capacity for the visual features of objects (Brady, Konkle, Alvarez, & Oliva, 2008; Standing, 1973), actions (Urgolites & Wood, 2013), and scenes (Konkle, Brady, Alvarez, & Oliva, 2010). To date, however, little is known about how VLTM stores these different entities when building a representation of a larger visual event. Are objects, actions, and scenes that are observed together in the same visual event stored as an integrated representation in VLTM? Or does long- term memory store entities from the same visual event sepa- rately from one another?

Behavioral and neurophysiological studies have provided suggestive evidence that VLTM maintains different visual entities separately from one another. For example, on the behavioral level, studies of eyewitness testimony have shown that visual memories are susceptible to agent-action binding errors, in which observers mistakenly remember an agent and action as having been part of the same event, when in reality they were seen in different events (Earles, Kersten, Curtayne, & Perle, 2008; Kersten & Earles, 2010;Kersten,Earles, Curtayne, & Lane, 2008; Loftus, 1976; Perfect & Harris, 2003; Ross, Ceci, Dunning, & Toglia, 1994). Similarly, un- conscious transference errors-in which someone seen in a noncriminal context is mistakenly identified as a perpetrator in acriminalcontext-occur frequently in eyewitness testimony. For example, mere exposure to mug shots of a suspect signif- icantly increases the likelihood that in a later lineup, the witness will identify that suspect as a perpetrator (e.g., Brown, Deffenbacher, & Sturgill, 1977; Deffenbacher, Bornstein, & Penrod, 2006; Deffenbacher, Carr, & Leu, 1981; Kassin, Tubb, Hosch, & Memon, 2001;Perfect& Harris, 2003), and the presence of a familiar but innocent bystander in a lineup significantly increases the rate of false identification (Brown et al., 1977; Buckhout, 1974; Loftus, 1976). These studies have shown that in many situations, we remember people, actions, and scenes, but fail to accurately bind these different entities into integrated representations in long-term memory. More generally, these results suggest that objects, actions, and scenes that are present in the same visual event are stored separately from one another in VLTM. …

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