Tanabe-Ishibashi, A., Ikeda, T., Osaka, N

Raise two effects with one scene: Scene contexts have two separate effects in
visual working memory of target faces

Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 400, 2014



Many people have experienced the inability to recognize a familiar face
in a changed context, a phenomenon known as
the “butcher-on-the-bus “effect. Whether this context effect is
a facilitation of memory by old contexts or a disturbance of
memory by novel contexts is of great debate. Here, we investigated
how two types of contextual information associated with target faces
influence the recognition performance of the faces using
meaningful (scene) or meaningless (scrambled scene) backgrounds.
The results showed two different effects of contexts: (1) disturbance on
face recognition by changes of scene backgrounds and (2) weak
facilitation of face recognition by there-presentation of the same
backgrounds, be it scene or scrambled. The results indicate that the
facilitation and disturbance of context effects are actually caused by
two different subcomponents of the background information: semantic
information available from scene backgrounds and visual array
information commonly included in a scene and its scrambled picture.
This view suggests visual working memory system can control such
context information, so that it switches the way to deal with the contexts
information; inhibiting it as a distracter or activating it as a cue for
recognizing the current target.

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