Many studies suggest a large capacity memory for briefly presented pictures of whole scenes. At the same time, visual working memory (WM) of scene elements is limited to only a few items. We examined the role of retroactive interference in limiting memory for visual details. Participants viewed a scene for 5 s and then, after a short delay containing either a blank screen or 10 distracter scenes, answered questions about the location, color, and identity of objects in the scene. We found that the influence of the distracters depended on whether they were from a similar semantic domain, such as “kitchen” or “airport.” Increasing the number of similar scenes reduced, and eventually eliminated, memory for scene details. Although scene memory was firmly established over the initial study period, this memory was fragile and susceptible to interference. This may help to explain the discrepancy in the literature between studies showing limited visual WM and those showing a large capacity memory for scenes.
Keywords: visual memory, working memory, scene perception
Citation: Melcher D and Murphy B (2011) The role of semantic interference in limiting memory for the details of visual scenes. Front. Psychology 2:262. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011.00262
Received: 14 April 2011; Accepted: 21 September 2011;
Published online: 14 October 2011.
Edited by:Anna M. Borghi, University of Bologna and Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, Italy
Reviewed by:Ken McRae, University of Western Ontario, Canada
Copyright: © 2011 Melcher and Murphy. This is an open-access article subject to a non-exclusive license between the authors and Frontiers Media SA, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and other Frontiers conditions are complied with.
*Correspondence: David Melcher, Center for Mind/Brain Sciences, University of Trento, Corso Bettini 31, 38068 Rovereto, Trento, Italy. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org