Vividness of recollection is supported by eye movements in individuals with high, but not low trait autobiographical memory

Cognition. 2021 Jan:206:104487. doi: 10.1016/j.cognition.2020.104487. Epub 2020 Oct 19.


There are marked individual differences in the recollection of personal past events or autobiographical memory (AM). Theory concerning the relationship between mnemonic and visual systems suggests that eye movements promote retrieval of spatiotemporal details from memory, yet assessment of this prediction within naturalistic AM has been limited. We examined the relationship of eye movements to free recall of naturalistic AM and how this relationship is modulated by individual differences in AM capacity. Participants freely recalled past episodes while viewing a blank screen under free and fixed viewing conditions. Memory performance was quantified with the Autobiographical Interview, which separates internal (episodic) and external (non-episodic) details. In Study 1, as a proof of concept, fixation rate was predictive of the number of internal (but not external) details recalled across both free and fixed viewing. In Study 2, using an experimenter-controlled staged event (a museum-style tour) the effect of fixations on free recall of internal (but not external) details was again observed. In this second study, however, the fixation-recall relationship was modulated by individual differences in autobiographical memory, such that the coupling between fixations and internal details was greater for those endorsing higher than lower episodic AM. These results suggest that those with congenitally strong AM rely on the visual system to produce episodic details, whereas those with lower AM retrieve such details via other mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Eye Movements
  • Humans
  • Memory, Episodic*
  • Mental Recall

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