Sometimes it helps to be taken out of context: Memory for objects in scenes

Karla K. Evans*, Jeremy M. Wolfe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is well known that humans demonstrate massive and surprisingly rich recognition memory for objects and/or scenes and that context typically aids retrieval of episodic memories. However, when we combine picture memory for 100 objects with the context in the form of a background scene, we find that irrelevant contexts lead to substantial impairments of object memory. Twelve experiments used a standard long-term, picture memory paradigm. Backgrounds could be semantically consistent or inconsistent scenes or simple arrays of objects. In all cases, the target object to be remembered was clearly marked by an outline box. Backgrounds were always known to be irrelevant, but, nevertheless, significantly reduced old/new discrimination for target objects. Interference from the scene was apparently unavoidable, suggesting that the seemingly effortless encoding that makes it easy to store scenes into memory, makes it hard to avoid interference with the encoding and recognition of objects placed in or on those scenes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-244
Number of pages16
Issue number4
Early online date24 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • context
  • interference
  • objects
  • scenes
  • Visual recognition memory

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