, Volume 70, Issue 2, pp 314-328

The role of memory and restricted context in repeated visual search


Previous studies have shown that the efficiency of visual search does not improve when participants search through the same unchanging display for hundreds of trials (repeated search), even though the participants have a clear memory of the search display. In this article, we ask two important questions. First, why do participants not use memory to help search the repeated display? Second, can context be introduced so that participants are able to guide their attention to the relevant repeated items? Experiments 1–4 show that participants choose not to use a memory strategy because, under these conditions, repeated memory search is actually less efficient than repeated visual search, even though the latter task is in itself relatively inefficient. However, when the visual search task is given context, so that only a subset of the items are ever pertinent, participants can learn to restrict their attention to the relevant stimuli (Experiments 5 and 6).

This research was supported by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to J.M.W.