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Visual Short-Term Memory of Object Properties

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Research on the dynamics of object recognition is important in understanding how individuals perceive, recognise and encode real life objects and their properties from everyday scenes. For example, films rely on the recognition of objects to understand the plot. Additionally, understanding the multi- faceted nature of object recognition may help generate advancements in surveillance systems and computer vision. Thus, there are many areas that will benefit from object recognition research. In order to understand how individuals, remember objects properties, Henderson and Hollingworth proposed the visual memory theory which suggests that when individuals process a scene (e.g. bedroom) through exploratory saccades (fixating at different aspects of the scene), a visual representation of the scene is stored in the visual short- term memory. Within the visual representation, configural properties of objects (position, location, presence,) are believed to encode prior to surface properties of objects (colour, texture, material). Scene presentation time has shown to influence how much visual information is encoded in the visual memory store. Due to the importance object recognition and confounding variables in previous studies, the current study aims to determine if configural properties are recognised easier than surface properties and subsequently study how increased presentation time of scenes influences  accuracy of those properties.

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Aginsky and Tarr determined that configural properties are encoded better than surface properties by using a change detection paradigm where participants were required to identify changes in visual properties of objects. Some participants were told what to look out for, causing them to fixate on the visual characteristic that was going to change. If cueing increased their ability to detect a surface or configural property change, then that property required more attention to encode. It was revealed that participants were able to detect changes in configural properties regardless if they were cued or not whereas changes in surface properties were more easily identified if the participant was cued. Therefore, configural properties are easier to encode than surface properties. However, colour was only tested. Other surface properties such as texture and material may not experience the same advantage from the cue. In support, Large, McCall and Goodale found that colour may be processed differently to other surface characteristics. Therefore, the notion that colour takes longer to process is ungeneralizable to other surface properties. The current research compensates for this by testing other surface properties as well as colour.

An individual’s ability to recall scene characteristics is influenced by the amount of attention and time, they have to study the scene. Research has shown that brief exposure to a scene (250ms and 1000ms) is not enough to remember objects, however, when presentation time is increased to 15 seconds, approximately five objects can be remembered. However, rather than processing the objects, they may have used distinct scene categories  stored in their long-term memory which aid recognition of object within known scenes. To try and counteract the effect of schemas, the current study used scenes that were niche rather than common everyday scenes.

The aim of the current research was to attempt to replicate the previous findings that configural properties are encoded better than surface and presentation will increase short- term memory. Thus, three hypotheses were comprised: The main effects for attribute (configural and surface) will be significant, showing that configural properties are easier to remember than surface properties. Secondly, the main effect for presentation time will be significant demonstration that presentation time increases short- term memory accuracy. Finally, it was predicated that a significant interaction between presentation time and attribute will be found. 

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