The visual recollections of intricate settings frequently resembled sturdy, accurate archives of the past. It has been shown in several studies that active exploration of a scene with eye movements enhanced recognition memory for the scene, although it was not apparent whether the enhancement is brought about by heightened sensations of familiarity or more precise remembrance.

In an incidental memory paradigm, researchers connected the scope and specificity of fixation patterns at encoding and retrieval to various recognition choices. Participants (N = 44) responded to a surprise memory test by stating whether a picture was new, recalled (showing recollection), or merely known to be old after incidental encoding of 240 real-world scene images (indicating familiarity). They created a unique report process where participants chose the scene region that they precisely remembered, that seemed the most familiar to them, or that was notably unfamiliar to them in order to test the specificity of their visual recollections. When encoding, when taking into account the complete image, later remembered scenes had a greater number of fixations that were more widely dispersed compared to known or forgotten situations, showing that more thorough visual exploration determines stronger and more comprehensive memories.

Fixations for later recalled scenes were, however, more numerous and closely packed when just memory-relevant visual portions were taken into account, as opposed to later recognized scenes. Recalled scenes had a more constrained scope of visual exploration during retrieval compared to fresh or forgotten scenes, and there were fewer fixations. It’s significant that fixation density and clustering were higher for remembered pictures compared to familiar or incorrectly identified images in memory-relevant regions.

The results implied that a higher potential for recollecting particular picture elements results from more thorough visual exploration of the overall scene, with a subset of more focused and dense fixations in particular image locations.