Previous evidence demonstrated that individuals can recall a target’s location in a search display even if location information is completely task-irrelevant. This finding raises the question: does this ability to automatically encode a single item’s location into a reportable memory trace extend to other aspects of spatial information as well? We tested this question using a paradigm designed to elicit attribute amnesia (Chen & Wyble, Psychological Science, 26(2) 203-210, 2015a). Participants were initially asked to report the location of a target letter among digits with stimuli arranged to form one of two or four spatial configurations varying randomly across trials. After completing numerous trials that matched their expectations, participants were surprised with a series of unexpected questions probing their memory for various aspects of the display they had just viewed. Participants had a profound inability to report which spatial configuration they had just perceived when the target’s location was not unique to a specific configuration (i.e., orthogonal). Despite being unable to report the most recent configuration, answer choices on the surprise trial were focused around previously seen configurations, rather than novel configurations. Thus, there were clear memories of the set of configurations that had been viewed during the experiment but not of the specific configuration from the most recent trial. This finding helps to set boundary conditions on previous findings regarding the automatic encoding of location information into memory.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)