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Kuhbandner, Christof; Rosas-Corona, Elizabeth A.; Spachtholz, Philipp (2017): High-Fidelity Visual Long-Term Memory within an Unattended Blink of an Eye. In: Frontiers in Psychology, Vol. 8, 1859


What is stored in long-term memory from current sensations is a question that has attracted considerable interest. Over time, several prominent theories have consistently proposed that only attended sensory information leaves a durable memory trace whereas unattended information is not stored beyond the current moment, an assumption that seems to be supported by abundant empirical evidence. Here we show, by using a more sensitive memory test than in previous studies, that this is actually not true. Observers viewed a rapid stream of real-world object pictures overlapped by words (presentation duration per stimulus: 500 ms, interstimulus interval: 200 ms), with the instruction to attend to the words and detect word repetitions, without knowing that their memory would be tested later. In a surprise two-alternative forced-choice recognition test, memory for the unattended object pictures was tested. Memory performance was substantially above chance, even when detailed feature knowledge was necessary for correct recognition, even when tested 24 h later, and even although participants reported that they do not have any memories. These findings suggests that humans have the ability to store at high speed detailed copies of current visual stimulations in long-term memory independently of current intentions and the current attentional focus.