Conceptual distinctiveness supports detailed visual long-term memory for real-world objects.
Talia, K., Brady, T.F., Alvarez, G.A., & Oliva, A. (2010). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139 (3), 558-578.
Humans have a massive capacity to store detailed information in visual long-term memory. Here, we examined how conceptual and perceptual features of object categories support this capacity. Observers viewed 2800 object images in which we varied the number of exemplars presented from each category. At test, observers indicated which of two exemplars they previously studied. Memory performance decreased as more exemplars were held in memory. However, performance remained quite high (82% accuracy) with 16 exemplars from a category in memory, demonstrating a large memory capacity for object exemplars. We found that object categories with conceptually distinctive exemplars showed less interference in memory as the number of exemplars increased. Perceptual measures of shape and color distinctiveness, however, did not correlate with the degree of memory interference, though they strongly predicted visual search rates for an object target amongst exemplars. We propose a capacity model that provides a mechanistic explanation for how this pattern of memory interference might arise. Taken together, these data provide evidence that our massive capacity to remember visual information depends more on conceptual structure rather than perceptual distinctiveness.