Familiarity from the configuration of objects in 3-dimensional space and its relation to déjà vu: A virtual reality investigation

Anne M. Cleary, Alan S. Brown, Benjamin D. Sawyer, Jason S. Nomi, Adaeze C. Ajoku, Anthony J. Ryals

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

31 Scopus citations


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 a previously-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 a scene to one stored in memory, suggesting that feature-matching can produce familiarity and déjà vu when recall fails.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)969-975
Number of pages7
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012
Externally publishedYes



  • Déjà vu
  • Familiarity-based recognition
  • Recognition without cued recall
  • Scene recognition
  • Virtual reality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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