A new study showed for the first time that in natural vision, visual memory of images is affected by the size of the image on the retina.
The research has been published in the 'Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal'.
A new study led by Dr Sharon Gilaie-Dotan, of Bar-Ilan University's School of Optometry and Vision Science and Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center, sought to determine whether large images are better remembered than small ones during natural daily behaviour. Her assumption was based on the fact that large images require the visual system to utilize greater resources for processing them.
These findings can have many implications, including on the use of different types of electronic screens and the quality of information processing when we rely on large vs. small screens.
Shaimaa Masarwa and Olga Kreichman, PhD students in Dr Gilaie-Dotan's lab, examined what happened to visual memory when participants were asked to look at pictures without knowing anything about a memory task to come. Each participant was shown different pictures in different sizes, each presented to them just once.
182 subjects participated in seven different experiments. Time and time again the researchers found that the large images were better remembered (1.5 times more) than the small images. This phenomenon was not dependent on specific stimuli, the order in which the images appeared, their resolution, or the amount of information they contained.
To understand whether this result was determined by size rather than the amount of detail, the researchers also examined whether large, blurred images are better etched in memory than clear, small images, where the large images contained the same details like the small images. To their surprise, they found that even in this case, the participants remembered the large, blurry images better than the small, clear images.
They also found that most images were better remembered when they were presented as bigger relative to when they were presented as smaller.
"In areas of the brain that represent the retinal image, more resources will be directed to processing large images than to processing small images because the processing is determined by the area of the retina that the image stimulates," said Dr Gilaie-Dotan.
She pointed out that additional factors may contribute to remembering large images, such as different eye movements, and more attention and interest that large images elicit.
The study was conducted on young adults aged 18-40, ages in which vision is completely developed but has not yet begun to age. Different ages may be affected by the size of the stimuli in a different way since both age and experience with screens are quite different between young and old.
While the study examined only static images, the findings could have important implications on the "screen generation," which consumes much of its information on small electronic devices.
"It is possible that even in dynamic images, such as videos, greater vision resources will be directed towards processing videos on large vs. small screens and, therefore, videos on the large screen will likely be better remembered," said Gilaie-Dotan.
In addition, many high schools textbooks today are available in electronic format, and students sometimes study on their smartphones. While the smartphone screen is handy and accessible, in practice the quality of learning may be better on a larger screen.
Gilaie-Dotan said that much follow-up research will be needed to understand how widespread the phenomenon is and whether it affects all processing in all situations, or only in some cases.