Event Boundaries in Perception Affect Memory Encoding and Updating

Khena M. Swallow, Jeffrey M. Zacks, Richard A. Abrams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Scopus citations


Memory for naturalistic events over short delays is important for visual scene processing, reading comprehension, and social interaction. The research presented here examined relations between how an ongoing activity is perceptually segmented into events and how those events are remembered a few seconds later. In several studies, participants watched movie clips that presented objects in the context of goal-directed activities. Five seconds after an object was presented, the clip paused for a recognition test. Performance on the recognition test depended on the occurrence of perceptual event boundaries. Objects that were present when an event boundary occurred were better recognized than other objects, suggesting that event boundaries structure the contents of memory. This effect was strongest when an object's type was tested but was also observed for objects' perceptual features. Memory also depended on whether an event boundary occurred between presentation and test; this variable produced complex interactive effects that suggested that the contents of memory are updated at event boundaries. These data indicate that perceptual event boundaries have immediate consequences for what, when, and how easily information can be remembered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-257
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2009


  • episodic memory
  • event segmentation
  • perception
  • short-term memory


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