When perception is underdetermined by current sensory inputs, memories for related experiences in the past might fill in missing detail. To evaluate this possibility, we measured the likelihood of relying on long-term memory versus sensory evidence when judging the appearance of an object near the threshold of awareness. Specifically, we associated colors with shapes in long-term memory and then presented the shapes again later in unrelated colors and had observers judge the appearance of the new colors. We found that responses were well characterized as a bimodal mixture of original and current-color representations (vs. an integrated unimodal representation). That is, although irrelevant to judgments of the current color, observers occasionally anchored their responses on the original colors in memory. Moreover, the likelihood of such memory substitutions increased when sensory input was degraded. In fact, they occurred even in the absence of sensory input when observers falsely reported having seen something. Thus, although perceptual judgments intuitively seem to reflect the current state of the environment, they can also unknowingly be dictated by past experiences.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Sensory Systems