Duration of visible persistence in relation to stimulus complexity

David E. Irwin, James M. Yeomans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Visible persistence refers to the phenomenal impression that a stimulus is still present after its offset. A dispute exists whether visible persistence is due to temporal sluggishness in the visual pathway (neural hypothesis) or whether it is a byproduct of information-extraction processes under cognitive control (process hypothesis). This was investigated by manipulating stimulus complexity in five temporal integration experiments and one recognition memory experiment. According to the process hypothesis, complex stimuli should persist longer than simple stimuli because they require more information extraction. This prediction was not confirmed; in all six experiments, complexity was found to have no reliable effect on the duration of visible persistence. By contrast, and in accordance with earlier findings, complexity was shown to have a significant effect on a short-lived, nonvisible form of memory known as schematic persistence. This pattern of results supports two major conclusions: First, that the effects of complexity reported in earlier research were probably on schematic-rather than visible-persistence; and second, that visible persistence must be regarded as a residual neural trace of an extinguished stimulus, rather than as a byproduct of information-extraction processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-489
Number of pages15
JournalPerception & Psychophysics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Sensory Systems
  • General Psychology


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