Familiarity from the Configuration of Objects in 3-Dimensional Space and Its Relation to Déjà Vu: A Virtual Reality Investigation

Déjà vu is the striking sense that the present situation feels familiar, alongside the realization that it has to be new. According to the Gestalt familiarity hypothesis, déjà vu results when the configuration of elements within a scene maps onto a configuration previously seen, but the previous scene fails to come to mind. We examined this using virtual reality (VR) technology. When a new immersive VR scene resembled apreviously-viewed scene in its configuration but people failed to recall the previously-viewed scene, familiarity ratings and reports of déjà vu were indeed higher than for completely novel scenes. People also exhibited the contrasting sense of newness and of familiarity that is characteristic of déjà vu. Familiarity ratings and déjà vu reports among scenes recognized as new increased with increasing feature-match of ascene to one stored in memory, suggesting that feature-matching can produce familiarity and déjà vu when recall fails.

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Dr. Cleary, lead author on the study, gave a TEDx talk covering this research:


Scientific American wrote up this study:

Déjà vu—that uncanny feeling of having experienced a situation before—has eluded explanation for centuries. Now the first study to use virtual reality to model the phenomenon in the laboratory is helping demystify the spooky illusion, revealing that the layout of a scene can trigger it.

Read the article in Scientific American Magazine here


Colorado State University issued a press release about this article:

Déjà vu – that strange feeling of having experienced something before – is more likely to occur when a scene’s spatial layout resembles one in memory, according to groundbreaking new research by a Colorado State University psychology professor.

Read More on the Colorado State University Website