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People can store thousands of real-world objects in visual long-term memory with high precision. But are these objects stored as unitary, bound entities, as often assumed, or as bundles of separable features? We tested this in two experiments. Participants memorized specific exemplars of real-world objects presented in a particular state (e.g., open/closed; full/empty; etc), and then were asked to recognize either which exemplars they had seen (e.g., I saw this coffee mug), or which exemplar-state conjunctions they had seen (e.g., I saw this coffee mug and it was full). Participants frequently committed ‘swap’ errors, misremembering which states went with which exemplars. Furthermore, participants were very good at remembering which exemplars they had seen independently of whether these items were presented in a new or old state. Thus, the features of real-world objects that support exemplar discrimination and state discrimination are not bound, suggesting visual objects are not unitary entities in memory.
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