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01-09-2018 | Original Article Open Access

Less imageable words lead to more looks to blank locations during memory retrieval

Psychological Research
Alper Kumcu, Robin L. Thompson


People revisit spatial locations of visually encoded information when they are asked to retrieve that information, even when the visual image is no longer present. Such “looking at nothing” during retrieval is likely modulated by memory load (i.e., mental effort to maintain and reconstruct information) and the strength of mental representations. We investigated whether words that are more difficult to remember also lead to more looks to relevant, blank locations. Participants were presented four nouns on a two by two grid. A number of lexico-semantic variables were controlled to form high-difficulty and low-difficulty noun sets. Results reveal more frequent looks to blank locations during retrieval of high-difficulty nouns compared to low-difficulty ones. Mixed-effects modelling demonstrates that imagery-related semantic factors (imageability and concreteness) predict looking at nothing during retrieval. Results provide the first direct evidence that looking at nothing is modulated by word difficulty and in particular, word imageability. Overall, the research provides substantial support to the integrated memory account for linguistic stimuli and looking at nothing as a form of mental imagery.

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