Briefly Flashed Scenes Can Be Stored in Long-Term Memory

October 5, 2018
Arnaud Delorme, PhD

Delorme, Arnaud, Poncet, Marlène, Fabre-Thorpe, Michèle. (2018) Briefly Flashed Scenes Can Be Stored in Long-Term Memory. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, 688, DOI=10.3389/fnins.2018.00688.


The capacity of human memory is impressive. Previous reports have shown that when asked to memorize images, participants can recognize several thousands of visual objects in great details even with a single viewing of a few seconds per image. In this experiment, we tested recognition performance for natural scenes that participants saw for 20 ms only once (untrained group) or 22 times over many days (trained group) in an unrelated task. 400 images (200 previously viewed and 200 novel images) were flashed one at a time and participants were asked to lift their finger from a pad whenever they thought they had already seen the image (go/no-go paradigm). Compared to previous reports of excellent recognition performance with only single presentations of a few seconds, untrained participants were able to recognize only 64% of the 200 images they had seen few minutes before. On the other hand, trained participants, who had processed the flashed images (20 ms) several times, could correctly recognize 89% of them. EEG recordings confirmed these behavioral results. As early as 230 ms after stimulus onset, a significant event-related-potential (ERP) difference between familiar and new images was observed for the trained but not for the untrained group. These results show that briefly flashed unmasked scenes can be incidentally stored in long-term memory when repeated.

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