Visual scene memory and the guidance of saccadic eye movements

David Melcher, Eileen Kowler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


An unresolved question is how much information can be remembered from visual scenes when they are inspected by saccadic eye movements. Subjects used saccadic eye movements to scan a computer-generated scene, and afterwards, recalled as many objects as they could. Scene memory was quite good: it improved with display duration, it persisted over time long after the display was removed, and it continued to accumulate with additional viewings of the same display (Melcher, D. (2001) The persistance of memory for scenes. Nature 412, 401). The occurrence of saccadic eye movements was important to ensure good recall performance, even though subjects often recalled non-fixated objects. Inter-saccadic intervals increased with display duration, showing an influence of duration on global scanning strategy. The choice of saccadic target was predicted by a Random Selection with Distance Weighting (RSDW) model, in which the target for each saccade is selected at random from all available objects, weighted according to distance from fixation, regardless of which objects had previously been fixated. The results show that the visual memory that was reflected in the recall reports was not utilized for the immediate decision about where to look in the scene. Visual memory can be excellent, but it is not always reflected in oculomotor measures, perhaps because the cost of rapid on-line memory retrieval is too great.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3597-3611
Number of pages15
JournalVision research
Issue number25-26
StatePublished - 2001


  • Attention
  • Memory retrieval
  • Planning
  • Saccadic eye movements
  • Scene memory
  • Visual memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ophthalmology
  • Sensory Systems


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