Conceptual distinctiveness supports detailed visual long-term memory

Konkle, Brady, Alvarez, & Oliva

Humans have a massive capacity to store detailed information in visual long-term memory. The present studies explored the fidelity of these visual long-term memory representations and examined how conceptual and perceptual features of object categories support this capacity. Observers viewed 2,800 object images with a different number of exemplars presented from each category. At test, observers indicated which of 2 exemplars they had previously studied. Memory performance was high and remained quite high (82% accuracy) with 16 exemplars from a category in memory, demonstrating a large memory capacity for object exemplars. However, memory performance decreased as more exem- plars were held in memory, implying systematic categorical interference. Object categories with con- ceptually distinctive exemplars showed less interference in memory as the number of exemplars increased. Interference in memory was not predicted by the perceptual distinctiveness of exemplars from an object category, though these perceptual measures predicted visual search rates for an object target among exemplars. These data provide evidence that observers’ capacity to remember visual information in long-term memory depends more on conceptual structure than perceptual distinctiveness.

Konkle, T., Brady, T. F., Alvarez, G. A., & Oliva, A. (2010). Conceptual distinctiveness supports detailed visual long-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. 139 (3):558-78.