Remembering where, but not what: how spatial and object visual memory change across delays in recall

Poster Presentation 43.446: Monday, May 22, 2023, 8:30 am – 12:30 pm, Pavilion
Session: Visual Working Memory: Space, features, objects

Emma Megla1 (), Samuel R. Rosenthal1, Wilma A. Bainbridge1; 1University of Chicago

Although it has been established that memory worsens the further we get from the original event (Ebbinghaus, 1885), it is largely unknown what memory components degrade over this passage of time (e.g., object or spatial memory). Previous recognition studies suggest there may be different rates of decline in memory, with object detail declining more quickly than spatial memory of these objects (Talamini & Gorree, 2012). Memory may also become more semantic over time, leading to false objects inserted into our memories (Lampinen et al., 2001). However, these recognition methods—which test memory for images as a whole—lack the capability to fully capture the resolution of memory: what about images are actually remembered? Here, we conducted a series of experiments utilizing drawing to test recall, capturing how the details within memory—such as which objects are remembered and their spatial accuracy—change across increasing delays. In the primary experiment, participants were presented with a scene image and either immediately after, or following a delay (5 minutes, 1 hour, 24 hours, 48 hours, or one week later), drew what they remembered from this scene. These drawings were then scored by separate online participants, quantifying the number of objects recalled, their spatial accuracy, and the presence of false objects. We found participants significantly remembered scenes in less detail over time, recalling fewer objects from the scene when recalling further from encoding. However, participants also had surprisingly accurate memory a week later, with few false objects and high spatial precision. Although spatially precise, we found interesting asymmetries in vertical and horizontal spatial memory of objects. Therefore, loss of object detail in memory appears to be the primary memory component that worsens over time, supporting different rates of decline in memory and a dissociation between spatial and object memory.