In everyday situations, we often rely on our memories to find what we are looking for in our cluttered environment. Recently, we developed a new experimental paradigm to investigate how long-term memory (LTM) can guide attention and showed how the pre-exposure to a complex scene in which a target location had been learned facilitated the detection of the transient appearance of the target at the remembered location [Summerfield, J. J., Rao, A., Garside, N., & Nobre, A. C. Biasing perception by spatial long-term memory. The Journal of Neuroscience, 31, 14952–14960, 2011; Summerfield, J. J., Lepsien, J., Gitelman, D. R., Mesulam, M. M., & Nobre, A. C. Orienting attention based on long-term memory experience. Neuron, 49, 905–916, 2006]. This study extends these findings by investigating whether and how LTM can enhance perceptual sensitivity to identify targets occurring within their complex scene context. Behavioral measures showed superior perceptual sensitivity (d′) for targets located in remembered spatial contexts. We used the N2pc ERP to test whether LTM modulated the process of selecting the target from its scene context. Surprisingly, in contrast to effects of visual spatial cues or implicit contextual cueing, LTM for target locations significantly attenuated the N2pc potential. We propose that the mechanism by which these explicitly available LTMs facilitate perceptual identification of targets may differ from mechanisms triggered by other types of top–down sources of information.

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