The apple in your mind’s eye | A Moment of Science

Y: Don, it’s time for the A Moment of Science memory challenge. Can you remember what the Apple computer logo looks like?

D: Of course I can, Yaël. My computer is an Apple and I see the logo every day.

Y: Don’t be so sure. In twenty fifteen, a team of psychologists published a study of visual memory in which they found that many people, including Apple users, couldn’t correctly draw the logo. Nor could they distinguish it from versions with major details altered. Before they took part in the experiment, the subjects insisted that the Apple logo was very memorable.

D: But why did scientists study people’s ability to remember the Apple logo, of all things?

Y: They wanted to learn how visual memory works in everyday life, and the findings were a big surprise. In the lab, people can perform amazing feats of visual memory, memorizing details of hundreds of images.

D: So, then why wouldn’t they be able to remember something as familiar as the Apple logo?

Y: The scientists think that in everyday life, people stop paying attention to the details of the logo, because they don’t need them any more to recognize it. They made similar findings about other familiar objects like pennies.

D: But without remembering the details, how do people remember the logo?

Y: A big clue comes from their drawings. A third of the participants included an apple stem, which the logo doesn’t have.

D: I see, maybe they rely on some general mental scheme of what apples look like to remember.

Y: That’s exactly what the scientists think.

D: It’s amazing what we can learn about vision, memory, and attention from such a simple experiment.