Visual memories are made stronger when they include concepts and context
All kinds of things in the world are capable of grabbing our attention, but it turns out that the way we see them helps determine how well they’ll be remembered. In addition to other factors like our interest and excitement levels, researchers presenting visual information in a variety of contexts have found that a subject’s movement, or the scope of an environment, all play roles in how well we can remember something. Taken together, it demonstrates how memories aren’t just isolated snapshots, but images built from context and experience.
The first study examined how movement made things easier to remember. By comparing people’s memories of naturally moving objects versus those erratically jumping around on a screen, researchers found that the type of motion was critical to how well people learned what that object looked like.
The advantage wasn’t just that the natural movement was less distracting, but that it let people see more information about the object’s appearance. With additional details revealed by changing lighting and angles, there was a chance for the object to be understood conceptually, and not just as visual information. Once something can be related to other knowledge, it’s easier to think about and retrieve later.
Seeing it in a scene
A second study relating to visual contexts found that the space we see something in becomes linked to how we remember it. Using virtual reality headsets, test subjects viewed a street scene either as two, separate images, or as one continuous visual, encompassing around 100 degrees of vision as they turned their head. When asked about details in those visuals later, people who had seen a continuous panorama had an easier time placing things.
Brain scans revealed that the more successful memories incorporated information from multiple brain areas, including the occipital place area (OPA) and retrosplenial complex (RSC). The combination of visual information plus sense of place seems to then strengthen the memory in a way that a simple snapshot could not.
Source: It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s — a key discovery about human memory by Len Turner, Scienmag