The Relative Contribution of Shape and Colour to Object Memory

Irene Reppa, Kate Williams, W. James Greville, Jo Saunders

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The current studies examined the relative contribution of shape and colour in object representations in memory. A great deal of evidence points to the significance of shape in object recognition, with the role of colour being instrumental under certain circumstances. A key but yet unanswered question concerns the contribution of colour relative to shape in mediating retrieval of object representations from memory. Two experiments (N=80) used a new method to probe episodic memory for objects and revealed the relative contribution of colour and shape in recognition memory. Participants viewed pictures of objects from different categories, presented one at a time. During a practice phase, participants performed yes/no recognition with some of the studied objects and their distractors. Unpractised objects shared shape only (Rp–Shape), colour only (Rp–Colour), shape and colour (Rp–Both), or neither shape nor colour (Rp–Neither), with the practised objects. Interference effects in memory between practised and unpractised items were revealed in the forgetting of related unpractised items – retrieval-induced forgetting. Retrieval-induced forgetting was consistently significant for Rp–Shape and Rp–Colour objects. These findings provide converging evidence that colour is an automatically encoded object property, and present new evidence that both shape and colour act simultaneously and effectively to drive retrieval of objects from long-term memory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1504-1521
Number of pages18
JournalMemory & Cognition
Issue number8
Early online date15 Jun 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Jun 2020


  • Novel objects
  • Object colour
  • Object recognition
  • Object shape
  • Retrieval-induced forgetting


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