Looking at nothing facilitates memory retrieval

Abstract

People fixate on blank locations if task irrelevant visual stimuli previously occupied that region of space. This so-called ‘looking at nothing’ phenomenon has been associated to information retrieval from an integrated memory representation. However, it is unclear, whether it directly affects the retrieval of information from memory. To clarify this, 23 participants listened to four sentences, each associated to one of four areas on the screen. Subsequently, they had to verify an auditorily presented statement about one of the sentences, by retrieving the related information from memory. During retrieval, participants could either gaze freely, or had to look at a fixation cross that appeared in the area associated to the tested sentence or in one of the other three areas. This manipulation of eye movements significantly affected retrieval performance. The results conform to a grounded perspective on the looking at nothing phenomenon.


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