Independent storage of different features of real-world objects in long-term memory
People can store thousands of real-world objects in visual long-term memory with high precision. But are these objects stored as unitary, bound entities, as often assumed, or as bundles of separable features? We tested this in several experiments. In the first series of studies, participants were instructed to remember specific exemplars of real-world objects presented in a particular state (e.g., open/closed, full/empty, etc.), and then were asked to recognize either which exemplars they had seen (e.g., I saw this coffee mug), or which exemplar-state conjunctions they had seen (e.g., I saw this coffee mug and it was full). Participants had a large number of within-category confusions, for example misremembering which states went with which exemplars, while simultaneously showing strong memory for the features themselves (e.g., which states they had seen, which exemplars they had seen). In a second series of studies, we found further evidence of independence: participants were very good at remembering which exemplars they had seen independently of whether these items were presented in a new or old state, but the same did not occur for features known to be truly holistically represented. Thus, we find through 2 lines of evidence that the features of real-world objects that support exemplar discrimination and state discrimination are not bound, suggesting visual objects are not inherently unitary entities in memory.