Serial dependence in visual perception: A meta-analysis and review

J Vis. 2023 Aug 1;23(8):18. doi: 10.1167/jov.23.8.18.


Positive sequential dependencies are phenomena in which actions, perception, decisions, and memory of features or objects are systematically biased toward visual experiences from the recent past. Among many labels, serial dependencies have been referred to as priming, sequential dependencies, sequential effects, or serial effects. Despite extensive research on the topic, the field still lacks an operational definition of what counts as serial dependence. In this meta-analysis, we review the vast literature on serial dependence and quantitatively assess its key diagnostic characteristics across several different domains of visual perception. The meta-analyses fully characterize serial dependence in orientation, face, and numerosity perception. They show that serial dependence is defined by four main kinds of tuning: serial dependence decays with time (temporal-tuning), it depends on relative spatial location (spatial-tuning), it occurs only between similar features and objects (feature-tuning), and it is modulated by attention (attentional-tuning). We also review studies of serial dependence that report single observer data, highlighting the importance of individual differences in serial dependence. Finally, we discuss a range of outstanding questions and novel research avenues that are prompted by the meta-analyses. Together, the meta-analyses provide a full characterization of serial dependence as an operationally defined family of visual phenomena, and they outline several of the key diagnostic criteria for serial dependence that should serve as guideposts for future research.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Individuality*
  • Visual Perception*