Testing effects in visual short-term memory: The case of an object's size

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In many daily activities, we need to form and retain temporary representations of an object’s size. Typically, such visual short-term memory (VSTM) representations follow perception and are considered reliable. Here, participants were asked to hold in mind a single simple object for a short duration and to reproduce its size by adjusting the length and width of a test probe. Experiment 1 revealed two powerful findings: First, similar to a recently reported perceptual illusion, participants greatly overestimated the size of open objects – ones with missing boundaries – relative to the same-size fully closed objects. This finding confirms that object boundaries are critical for size perception and memory. Second, and in contrast to perception, even the size of the closed objects was largely overestimated. Both inflation effects were substantial and were replicated and extended in Experiments 2–5. Experiments 6–8 used a different testing procedure to examine whether the overestimation effects are due to inflation of size in VSTM representations or to biases introduced during the reproduction phase. These data showed that while the overestimation of the open objects was repeated, the overestimation of the closed objects was not. Taken together, these findings suggest that similar to perception, only the size representation of open objects is inflated in VSTM. Importantly, they demonstrate the considerable impact of the testing procedure on VSTM tasks and further question the use of reproduction procedures for measuring VSTM.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1136-1148
Number of pages13
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018, Psychonomic Society, Inc.


  • Memory psychophysics
  • Object's size
  • Reproduction
  • Testing effects
  • The open-object illusion
  • s: Visual short-term memory


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