Expertise in Scene Gist: The Effects of Long-Term Visual Memory on Early Scene Processing
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Long-term memory has been widely studied, but it is unclear whether it can influence processing efficiency. In the past, researchers have focused on the effect of familiarity through repeated exposure to examine effects on subsequent processing. Behavioural, electrophysiological, and neuroimaging studies have demonstrated processing savings at an early stage for simple and complex visual stimuli. However, other researchers have argued that familiarity has a negligible or even a negative effect on processing mechanisms, making it unclear whether benefits can be attained at all. In the present study, we used complex real-world scenes to investigate the effects of familiarity on early processing of visual information and to investigate the mechanisms that could be responsible for any effects. In a pilot study, we established that there was an effect of familiarity on early scene processing. Thus, the present study examined the effect of different memory representations on early scene processing (Experiment 1), and investigated a potential underlying attentional mechanism of the processing benefits (Experiment 2). In Experiment 1, we explored whether familiarity effects on processing were due to a priming of a scene’s low-level perceptual details from a single image (Familiar Viewpoint) or due to a scene’s high-level conceptual representation from multiple viewpoints (Familiar Place). A lack of power within the study did not allow us to draw conclusions from the data; however, the findings suggest that there may be a benefit for familiar information. In Experiment 2, we explored whether processing savings from familiarity were due to fewer attentional resources required for familiar scenes. The availability of resources was manipulated using a dual-task paradigm. We found no performance detriment to scene processing under low and high cognitive load conditions. Our findings likely reflect a change in strategy and prioritization of scene processing over the secondary task, indicating that more sensitive methods of measuring attentional resources are required. In summary, long-term memory from perceptually-driven and conceptually-based representations can affect early scene processing mechanisms, without any effect on the underlying attentional resources needed for familiar information.