Eye movements to absent objects during mental imagery and visual memory in immersive virtual reality

Chiquet, Sandra; Martarelli, Corinna S.; Mast, Fred W. (2020). Eye movements to absent objects during mental imagery and visual memory in immersive virtual reality. Virtual reality, 25(3), pp. 655-667. Springer-Verlag 10.1007/s10055-020-00478-y

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The role of eye movements in mental imagery and visual memory is typically investigated by presenting stimuli or scenes on a two-dimensional (2D) computer screen. When questioned about objects that had previously been presented on-screen, people gaze back to the location of the stimuli, even though those regions are blank during retrieval. It remains unclear whether this behavior is limited to a highly controlled experimental setting using 2D screens or whether it also occurs in a more naturalistic setting. The present study aims to overcome this shortcoming. Three-dimensional (3D) objects were presented along a circular path in an immersive virtual room. During retrieval, participants were given two tasks: to visualize the objects, which they had encoded before, and to evaluate a statement about visual details of the object. We observed longer fixation duration in the area, on which the object was previously displayed, when compared to other possible target locations. However, in 89% of the time, participants fixated none of the predefined areas. On the one hand, this shows that looking at nothing may be overestimated in 2D screen-based paradigm, on the other hand, the looking at nothing effect was still present in the 3D immersive virtual reality setting, and thus it extends external validity of previous findings. Eye movements during retrieval reinstate spatial information of previously inspected stimuli.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


07 Faculty of Human Sciences > Institute of Psychology > Cognitive Psychology, Perception and Methodology

UniBE Contributor:

Chiquet, Sandra, Mast, Fred


100 Philosophy > 150 Psychology






[UNSPECIFIED] University of Bern (open access funding)




Sandra Chiquet

Date Deposited:

12 Apr 2021 16:24

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 15:50

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Eye movements; Eye tracking; Mental imagery; Virtual reality; Visual memory





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