Monday, January 28, 2013

change blindness

Change blindness is the failure to detect non-trivial changes in the visual field. The failure to see things changing right before your eyes may seem like a design fault, but it is actually a sign of evolutionary efficiency.

Examples may be seen by clicking  here, here, here, here, and here.

The term 'change blindness' was introduced by Ronald Rensink in 1997, although research in this area had been going on for many years. Experiments have shown that dramatic changes in the visual field often go unnoticed whether they are brought in gradually, flickered in and out, or abruptly brought in and out at various time intervals. The implication seems to be that the brain requires few details for our visual representations; the brain doesn't store dozens of details to which it can compare changes (Simons and Levin: 1998). The brain is not a video recorder and it is not constantly processing all the sense data available to it but is inattentive to much of that data, at least on a conscious level.

Change detection in films is notoriously poor when the change occurs during a cut or pan, as demonstrated by the color-changing card trick video and a number of other videos where a different actor appears after a cut, without the change being noticed by most viewers. Some experiments have shown that a person may be talking to someone (behind a counter, for example) who leaves (bends down behind the counter or exits the room) and is replaced by a different person, without the change being noticed.

Apparently, change blindness is due to the efficient nature of our evolved visual processing system, but it also opens the door to being deceived, much to the delight of magicians and sleight-of-hand con artists.


Chabris, Christopher and Daniel Simons. 2010. The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us. Crown.See also my review of this book.

Davis Deborah et. al. 2007. ‘Unconscious Transference’ Can Be an Instance of ‘Change Blindness’

Rensink, Ronald A., J. Kevin O'Regan, and James J. Clark. (1997). To see or not to see: the need for attention to perceive changes in scenes, Psychological Science 8 (5): 368-373.

Simons, Daniel J. & Daniel T. Levin. (1998). Failure to detect changes to people during a real-world interaction, Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 5: 644-649.


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  2. This demonstration allows you to test yourself in the change-blindness paradigm. Your task is to find the change between two images and click on it as quickly as you can. A change could be the deletion of an element from the original picture, a color or location change, a size change, etc. You are also able to control the flicker rate of the two images, as well as the interval during which the changes are masked. Due to the number of images required for this demonstration, the demo might take a little while (up to a minute or two) to load.

  3. What are we really aware of when we look out into our world? The phenomenon of "change blindness," when large changes in scenes go unnoticed, is causing many scientists to reevaluate their understanding of the visual process. To understand this phenomenon, one must experience it to believe it. Try some online examples to experience the phenomenon for yourself.

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