Visual mental imagery characterizes our inner worlds. We mostly experience our world via visual perception and when recalling past events, we rely on mental imagery. In this project we aim to investigate the generation and inspection of detailed mental images in the elderly with an eye-tracking approach. Eye data provide a unique window to understand mental imagery and visual memory in the elderly.

When asked to recall and visualize previously seen images, we tend to look back to empty locations where the images were presented. This effect has been shown in young adults and children. In this project we investigate whether this robust effect is also present in old adults. As visual memory has been shown to decline with aging, it is relevant to find out whether old adults use their eyes when they recall visual information. It has been suggested that looking back to previously visited areas could work as a scaffolding structure for the generation and inspection of mental images. 

Two age groups (20-30-year-olds and 65-75-year-olds) take part to the study. Participants are presented with visual stimuli belonging to four categories located in one of four quadrants (each category in one quadrant). After the encoding phase, participants perform four different pictorial recall tasks (a mental image generation task, a mental image inspection task, a vividness task, and an old-new task). We expect to find the looking at nothing effect in young and in old adults – the effect might eventually be stronger in mental images of old adults, working as a compensatory mechanism.

Graphical illustration of the encoding phase of the study. Participants are presented with videos of 3D objects and animals positioned on different quadrants of the screen. The stimuli were prepared by Deian Popic. Part of the stimuli comes from our recently developed database of virtual objects to be used in psychological re-search (Popic et al., 2021). In a second phase, participants are asked to visualize these objects (e.g., a pan) and animals (e.g., a deer) while eye data and other behavioral data are collected.

Durée du projet

01.01.2022 - 31.12.2023


MSc Pauline Berthouzoz
MSc Pauline Berthouzoz M. Sc
Dr Sandra Chiquet Birri
Dr Sandra Chiquet Birri Postdoc
Prof. Dr Corinna Martarelli
Prof. Dr Corinna Martarelli Prof. Dr