Scientific Reports

Memory shapes visual search strategies in large-scale environments

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Search is a central visual function. Most of what is known about search derives from experiments where subjects view 2D displays on computer monitors. In the natural world, however, search involves movement of the body in large-scale spatial contexts, and it is unclear how this might affect search strategies. In this experiment, we explore the nature of memory representations developed when searching in an immersive virtual environment. By manipulating target location, we demonstrate that search depends on episodic spatial memory as well as learnt spatial priors. Subjects rapidly learned the large-scale structure of the space, with shorter paths and less head rotation to find targets. These results suggest that spatial memory of the global structure allows a search strategy that involves efficient attention allocation based on the relevance of scene regions. Thus spatial memory may allow less energetically costly search strategies.


12 Mar 2018


Scientific Reports