Attention–memory interactions in scene perception
The perception of natural scenes relies on the integration of pre-existing knowledge with the immediate results of attentional processing, and what can be remembered from a scene depends in turn on how that scene is perceived and understood. However, there are conflicting results in the literature as to whether people are more likely to remember those objects that are consistent with the scene or those that are not. Moreover, whether any discrepancy between the likelihood of remembering schema-consistent or schema-inconsistent objects should be attributed to the schematic effects on attention or on memory remains unclear. To address this issue, the current study attempted to directly manipulate attention allocation by requiring participants to look at (i) schema-consistent objects, (ii) schema-inconsistent objects, or (iii) to share attention equally across both. Regardless of the differential allocation of attention or object fixation, schema-consistent objects were better recalled whereas recognition was independent of schema-consistency, but depended on task instruction. These results suggest that attention is important both for remembering low-level object properties, and information whose retrieval is not supported by the currently active schema. Specific knowledge of the scenes being viewed can result in the recall of non-fixated objects, but without such knowledge attention is required to encode sufficient detail for subsequent recognition. Our results demonstrate therefore that attention is not critical for the retrieval of objects that are consistent with a scene's schematic content.