Eye-movements reveal semantic interference effects during the encoding of naturalistic scenes in long-term memory

Anastasiia Mikhailova, Ana Raposo, Sergio Della Sala, Moreno I. Coco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Similarity-based semantic interference (SI) hinders memory recognition. Within long-term visual memory paradigms, the more scenes (or objects) from the same semantic category are viewed, the harder it is to recognize each individual instance. A growing body of evidence shows that overt attention is intimately linked to memory. However, it is yet to be understood whether SI mediates overt attention during scene encoding, and so explain its detrimental impact on recognition memory. In the current experiment, participants watched 372 photographs belonging to different semantic categories (e.g., a kitchen) with different frequency (4, 20, 40 or 60 images), while being eye-tracked. After 10 minutes, they were presented with the same 372 photographs plus 372 new photographs and asked whether they recognized (or not) each photo (i.e., old/new paradigm). We found that the more the SI, the poorer the recognition performance, especially for old scenes of which memory representations existed. Scenes more widely explored were better recognized, but for increasing SI, participants focused on more local regions of the scene in search for its potentially distinctive details. Attending to the centre of the display, or to scene regions rich in low-level saliency was detrimental to recognition accuracy, and as SI increased participants were more likely to rely on visual saliency. The complexity of maintaining faithful memory representations for increasing SI also manifested in longer fixation durations; in fact, a more successful encoding was also associated with shorter fixations. Our study highlights the interdependence between attention and memory during high-level processing of semantic information.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin & Review
Early online date19 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 May 2021


  • long-term visual memory
  • semantic interference
  • visual saliency
  • eye-tracking


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