Figure 1 from Hall, Bainbridge, & Baker (2021) showing the stimuli used in the study. Images circled in red is an example of the set of images shown to a participant.

Elizabeth Hall (UC Davis), Dr. Wilma Bainbridge, and Dr. Chris Baker (NIMH) have been examining the effect of similar versus distinct scenes on memory for object and spatial detail. Previous studies show that we can draw scenes from memory with remarkable accuracy for what objects were in the scene (object detail) and where the objects were located (spatial detail), and that we rarely falsely recall objects that were not in the scene. However, the participants in these experiments studied scenes that were distinct from each other and belonged to different categories (e.g. kitchen, office, playground). If the scenes were more similar to each other (e.g. all playground scenes), would that affect how detailed our drawings from memory are? In an article recently published in Memory, Hall, Bainbridge, and Baker examine this question by having people draw eight scenes from memory: four images from the same scene-category and the remaining four each from different scene categories.

They found that while drawings for scenes from the same category and less object detail, they did not differ in spatial detail accuracy. In other words, while people were recalling fewer objects with less detail for similar scenes, the objects that they did recall were drawn in the correct position and locations in the larger scene. This suggests that studying similar scenes might create competition in memory, resulting in drawings that have fewer object details than drawings of different scenes from distinct categories. You can read more about this research in the article published in Memory, entitled “Highly similar and competing visual scenes lead to diminished object but not spatial detail in memory drawings“.