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Robust memory of where from way back when: evidence from behaviour and visual attention

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Retention of events typically exhibits a sharp initial decrease followed by levelling off of forgetting. In an apparent exception to this general rule, college students have robust memory for their own locations in obscured versions of photographs of their entering classes taken during orientation-related activities, whether tested 2 months or 42 months after the event. Experiment 1 of the present research was a test for conceptual replication of this finding in photographs depicting more than twice the number of students (and thus potential distracters). There was no difference in memory accuracy for personal spatial location across retention intervals of 6–30 months. Experiment 2 featured 40-h and 2-month retention intervals, thereby providing a more fine-grained test of the forgetting function. The findings replicated Experiment 1. In Experiment 3, eye-tracking measures of visual attention revealed that participants rapidly fixated their own spatial locations within the photographs, even in the absence of explicit awareness. In all three experiments, memory for temporal features of the orientation activities (e.g., day and time the photograph was taken) followed the typical forgetting function. The findings suggest differential preservation of episodic memory for where relative to other aspects of events and experiences, such as when.
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Keywords: Autobiographical memory; episodic memory; long-term memory; spatial memory; temporal memory

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, USA

Publication date: September 14, 2017

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