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Change blindness

The laboratory study of change blindness began in the
1970s within the context of eye movement research. McConkie conducted the first studies on change blindness
involving changes in words and texts; in these studies, the
changes were introduced while the observer performed a
saccadic eye movement. Observers often failed to notice
these changes.[5]
In the late 1980s, the first clear experimental demonstration was published showing very poor change detection in
complex displays over brief intervals without eye movements being involved. Pashler (1988) showed that observers were poor at detecting changes introduced into
arrays of letters while the display was flickered off and on,
even if the offset was as brief as 67 milliseconds (although
offsets briefer than that produced much more effective
change detection). Pashler concluded by noting how odd
it was that people generally report having a “clear sense
of apprehending the identities and locations of large numbers of objects in a scene” (p. 377), and that given this
introspective sense, it seemed quite surprising how poor
is their detection of changes.[2]

Example of images that can be used in a change blindness task

Change blindness is a surprising perceptual phenomenon that occurs when a change in a visual stimulus is introduced and the observer does not notice it.
For example, observers often fail to notice major differences introduced into an image while it flickers off and on
again.[1] People’s poor ability to detect changes has been
argued to reflect fundamental limitations of human attention. Change blindness has become a highly researched
topic and some have argued that it may have important
practical implications in areas such as eyewitness testimony and distractions while driving.


History of change blindness

1.3 Research in the 1990s and 2000s

Early anecdotal observations of change



Outside of the domain of psychology, phenomena related
to change blindness have been discussed since the 19th
century.[2] When film editing was introduced in movies,
editors began to notice that changes to the background
were not noticed by those watching the film.[2] Going
back much earlier, William James (1842–1910) was the
first to mention the lack of ability to detect change in his
book Principles of Psychology. (1890) [2]


Earliest experimental
change blindness






Research on change blindness developed from investigation in other phenomena such as eye movements and
working memory.[2] Although individuals have a very
good memory as to whether or not they have seen an image, they are generally poor at recalling the smaller details
in that image.[3][4] When we are visually stimulated with
a complex picture, it is more likely that individuals retain
only a gist of an image and not the image in its entirety.




Saccadic eye movements have been known to induce change

With the rise of the ability to present complex, realworld images on a computer screen, Dr. George McConkie, in the early 1990s, as part of the new initiatives of the new Beckman Institute for Advanced Sci1

there is increased brain activity in the parietal-occipital and occipital regions prior to the emergence of a change in a change blindness task.3 Change blindness in teams changes if there are a few small.[15] 2. also known as individuals who are non-lucid dreamers. further research stated that rather large changes will not be detected when they occur during saccadic movements of the eye.1 Current research (2010–2012) Change detection Research indicates that detecting changes in a change blindness task is easier when items are holistically processed. Physics experts were more likely to notice a change between two physics problems than novices. Therefore.[18] It is hypothesized that experts are better at analyzing problems on a deeper level whereas novices employ a surface-level analysis. Individuals notice a change faster when required to detect changes in facial features than when required to detect changes in images of houses.[9] Additionally.[12] However. in change blindness begins even before the change is presented. This research suggests that observing the phenomenon of change blindOther researchers have discovered that mental processing ness may be conditional upon the context of the task.2 2 CURRENT RESEARCH (2010–2012) ence and Technology. and communication assist teams in correctly identifying changes between images. & Clarke demonstrated that change blindness can have an effect even if the eye was fixated on a scene.[16] Therefore. For example.[16] As such. individuals are better at identifying the nature of the change in houses.[11] susceptibility to change blindness when individuals are This method is particularly relevant to individuals driving placed in teams. However.[12] 2. the inability to notice the bizarre nature of the dream has been coined as an example of change blindness. a recent study found that lucid dreamers did not perform better on a change blindness task than non-lucid dreamers. even without the perceiver’s conscious awareness of the change. O’Regan. This obstruction may impair an individual’s abilbetween images are noticed more when individuals work ity to detect a change in their environment which could in teams as opposed to individually. research has indicated that changes shield. into practical applications of this phenomenon. The masking stimulus almost acts like a saccadic movement of the eye which makes it significantly more difficult for individuals to detect the change.[7][10][6] However. the relation between lucid dreamers and change blindness has Research on change blindness proceeded one step further been discredited to some degree. such as faces. Another finding based on similar studies stated that a change was easily picked up on by participants when the eye was fixated on the point of change. George McConkie (1996) began to use actual photographs to study visual stability. high contrast shapes that are temporarily splattered over a picture.2 Lucid dreaming Lucid dreaming occurs when one realizes that the events experienced within a dream are bizarre or would not occur in one’s waking life. other research in the mid-1990s has indicated that individuals still have difficulty detecting change even when they are directly fixated on a particular scene.[6][7] This research began when John Grimes and Dr. This was called the saccade target theory of transsaccadic memory of visual stability. the eye must be directly fixated on the area of change for it to be noticed.[14] Additional research using fluctuations in ERPs (Eventrelated potentials) has observed that changes in pictures (change blindness) are represented in the brain.[13] Researchers have also indicated there is a difference in brain activity between detecting a change and identifying change in an image. Detecting a change is associated with a higher ERP (Event-related potential) whereas identifying change is associated with an increased ERP before and after the change was presented. Although change blindness is still obin a car when there is a visual obstruction on the windserved within teams.[17] 2 2.[9] This was a critical contribution to change blindness research because it demonstrated that a change can remain unnoticed with the smallest disruptions. which was followed by the initial picture with a change. In this study. A study by Rensink.[17] Both teamwork result in severe negative consequences while driving. there does not have to be a masking stimulus in order for individuals to miss a change in a scene. Individuals often take significantly longer to notice certain 2. began a renewed attempt to investigate why the world looked stable and continuous despite the shifting retinal input signal that accompanied each saccade. More specifically.4 Expertise and change blindness Another recent study looked at the relation between expertise and change blindness.[8] This development in change blindness research was able to show the effects of change blindness in more realistic settings. . a picture was presented followed by a blank screen or “masking” stimulus.[11] This method Another interesting area of research is the decreased for testing change blindness is called “mudsplashes”.

In one study. the neurological . and inferior temporal gyrus also showed an increase in activation when individuals reported a change.4 Foreground-background segregation The foreground-background segregation method for studying change blindness uses photographs of scenery with a distinct foreground and background.[9] Both images are also shown for the same amount of time.2 Forced choice detection paradigm Individuals who are tested under the forced choice paradigm are only allowed to view the two pictures once before they make a choice.[21] 3 3. In addition. high contrast shapes that are scattered over an image. Researchers using this paradigm have found that individuals are usually able to recognize relatively small changes in the foreground of an image. specificity. The second important finding is that changes towards the middle of a picture are noticed at a faster rate than changes on the side of a picture. 4 Neuroanatomy of change blindness 4. Only 26% of subjects noticed the mismatch between their choice of face and the different face they were shown instead.[11] A practical application of this paradigm is that dangerous stimuli in a scene may not be noticed if there are slight obstructions in an individual’s visual field.[1] This procedure is performed at a very high rate and observers are told to click a button as soon as they see the difference between the two images. the change 3 may remain unnoticed. but have yielded many significant and groundbreaking results. Previously. Studies involving mudsplashes have shown that change blindness may occur because our internal representations of visual stimuli may be much worse than previous studies have shown. The first finding is that it usually takes a while for individuals to notice a change even though they are being instructed to search for a change.[23] Furthermore.[1] Although the flicker paradigm was first used in the late 1990s.3 Mudsplashes Mudsplashes are small.3.[22] This paradigm is critical to change blindness research because many previous studies have not examined the location of changes in the visual field. These studies have shown that even while participants are focusing their attention and searching for a change. and certainty for faces they had or had not actually chosen. they showed participants ten pairs of faces and asked them to choose which face was more attractive. the experimenter used sleight of hand to show participants a face they had NOT chosen. For some pairs. it has been stated that humans hold a very good internal representation of visual stimuli.[22] In addition. it can even take individuals over one minute of constant flickers to determine the location of the change. 3. an image and an altered image are switched back and forth with a blank screen in the middle. which means that the participants know they are trying to detect change.1 Neuroimaging Various studies have used MRI’s (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to measure brain activity when individuals detect (or fail to detect) a change in the environment.3 2. The experimenters tested pairs of faces that were either high in similarity or low in similarity. large changes to the colour of the background take significantly longer to detect. Despite the mismatch. but do not cover the area of the picture in which the change occurs.[1] In some cases. the fusiform face area was also significantly activated. A decrease of activation in these brain areas was observed if a change was not detected by the organism.[9] The flicker paradigm and the forced choice detection paradigm are known as intentional change detection tasks. Subjects were also asked to give reasons why they had chosen a face (although due to the sleight of hand they actually hadn't chosen it). This mudsplash effect prevents individuals from noticing the change between the two pictures.[23][24] If individuals were instructed to detect changes in faces. 3. When individuals detect a change.5 Mudsplashes Choice blindness Cognitive psychologists expanded the study of Change Blindness into decision-making. other structures such as the pulvinar. subjects gave responses that were comparable in emotionality. 3.[11] Mudsplashes have not been used as frequently as the flicker or forced choice detection paradigms in change blindness research.1 Change detection paradigms Flicker paradigm In this paradigm. the neural networks of the parietal and right dorsolateral prefrontal lobe regions are strongly activated.[1] This method of studying change blindness has helped researchers discover two very important findings. it is still commonly used in current research on change blindness and has contributed to current knowledge on change blindness.[19] Further research has showed that the failure to detect mismatches between intention and outcome exists in consumer product choices [20] and in political attitudes. but the detection rate was no different between those conditions. cerebellum.[24] It has been proposed that the parietal and frontal cortex along with the cerebellum and pulvinar might be used to direct an organism’s attention to a change in the environment.

than were participants aged 18–64.[27] This trend was also noticed by Caird et al. which demonstrates the importance of the PPC in terms of detecting changes between images.[30] . there was a significant decrease in the dorsolateral prefrontal and parietal lobe regions.[25] The PPC is critical for encoding and maintaining visual images in short term working memory.4 5 FACTORS INFLUENCING CHANGE BLINDNESS action time to detect the change. Organisms are only able to detect this change once the visual stimulation comes through the eye (its movements are controlled by the superior colliculus) and is subsequently processed through the visual stream. there would be a significant decrease in re- Older individuals have been known to have more difficulty detecting changes Age has been implicated as one of the factors which modulates the severity of change blindness.2 Attention Attention is another factor that has been implicated in change blindness. In order for an organism to detect change. visual stimulation must enter through eye and proceed through the visual stream in the brain. recent research has used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in order to inhibit areas of the brain while participants were instructed to try to detect the change between two images. the area of the brain responsible for encoding visual images will not function properly. 4.2 Role of attention The role of attention is critical for an organism’s ability to detect change. In a study conducted by Veiel et al.[24] Other studies using fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanners have shown that when change is not consciously detected.[25] The results show that when the posterior parietal cortex (PPC) is inhibited. the information of the first picture needs to be held in working memory and compared to the second picture. who found that drivers aged 65 and older were more prone to making incorrect decisions after a change blindness paradigm was used at an intersection. 5 Factors influencing change blindness 5. it is critical for organisms to attend to the change in order for it to be detected. an effect of the intentional bias for foreground elements. individuals are significantly slower at detecting change..[25] For a change to be detected. If the PPC is inhibited. In addition to fMRI studies. The information will not be encoded and will not be held in working memory and compared to the second picture.[28] 5. thus inducing change blindness. A study in 2004 demonstrated that if the superior colliculus (responsible for eye movements) of a monkey’s brain is electrically stimulated. increasing shifts in attention decrease the severity of change blindness[29] and changes in the foreground are detected more readily than changes made to the background of an image.[23] These results further the importance of the dorsolateral prefrontal and parietal cortext in the detection of visual change.[26] Therefore. it was found that older individuals were slower to detect the changes in a change blindness experiment than were younger individuals.1 Age MRI image activation of these highlighted brain areas was correlated with an individual’s conscious awareness of change and not the physical change itself.

1 Eyewitness testimony Research in change blindness has uncovered the possibility of inaccuracy in eyewitness testimony. Change blindness can occur even without a delay between the original image and the altered image.7.[38] In many cases.2 Driving ability Substance use Substance use has been found to affect the detection biases on change detection tasks. • Olfactory .[37] 7. eyewitness testimonies should be handled with caution in court in order to avoid any of these negative consequences. the appearance or onset of an object is more resistant to the occurrence of change blindness than the disappearance or offset of an object.[33] 5.change blindness for auditory information. but only if the change in the image forces the viewer to redefine the objects in the image. and both the appearance of a new object and the looming of an object are more resistant to change blindness than the receding of an object.[32] Furthermore.[35] Traffic collision 6 Change blindness in other senses In addition to change blindness induced by changes in visual images. and wrongful conviction. as well as the effective 'guessing' on some trials.3 Eyewitness testimony Object presentation Object presentation is the way in which objects appear and is a factor that determines the occurrence of change blindness.[40] The reaction time to changes in the driver’s peripherals is much slower than the reaction time to changes that occur towards the center of the driver’s visual the fact that control personnel have delayed reaction plications in the following areas: because of change blindness.[40] Furthermore.[39] 7.[31] Additionally. the appearance of a new object is more resistant to change blindness than a looming object.1 5. This indicates a relationship between substance use and change detection within a change blindness paradigm. witnesses are rarely able to detect a change in the criminal’s identity unless first intending to remember the incident in question.change blindness for tactile stimuli has been observed using the mudsplash paradigm for change blindness.[36] Older drivers make more incorrect decisions than younger drivers when faced with a change in the scene at an intersection.[39] Therefore.[28] In addition.[40] Research on the effects of change blindness while driving could provide insight into potential explanations of why car accidents occur. • Somatosensory .[28] This can be attributed to the fact that older individuals notice change at a slower rate compared to younger individuals.[34] This bias for devoting more attention to the drug-relevant stimuli is also observed with problem drinkers. mistaken eyewitness identification. those that had a change related to the substance they use regularly reported using the substance more than those detecting the neutral stimuli. an interface design of com- . change blindness also exists for the other senses: • Change deafness . If an individual was presented with two changes simultaneously. Individuals who have a more severe drinking problem are quicker to detect changes in alcohol-related stimuli than in neutral stimuli.[41] Due The phenomenon of change blindness has practical im. the location and relevance of changes have an effect on what is noticed while driving.3 Military Military command and control personnel who monitor multiple displays have a delayed time to accurately iden7 Practical implications tify changes due to the necessity of verifying the changes. drivers are also able to recognize more relevant changes as opposed to irrelevant ones.[38] This inability to detect a change in identity can lead to inaccuracy in identifying criminals.human is constantly in a state of change blindness due to the poor spatial and temporal resolutions with which scents are detected.4 5 7.

R. 89–110 [9] Simons. R. and pictures. D. Nature.A higher perception of success from previous experience inflates the individual’s confidence for success in future experiences. George W. Cognitive Psychology. [2] Simons..A.A. McConkie G.. 1(7)... R. (1967).1037/0096-1523. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception & Performance 22 (3): 563–581. 9 See also • Attention • Change deafness • Inattentional blindness • Introspection illusion • Memory • Motion blindness [1] Rensink.T.. Perception (Vancouver Studies in Cognitive Science) 2. Psychological Science. (1996).261–267 [3] Nickerson.[43] • Search Time . (1999). Carlson-Radvansky L.3. In other words. Change-blindness as a result of “mudsplashes”.The role of the saccade target object in the perception of a visually stable world.J. D. the individuals switching the sweater tend to overestimate the ability of the test writers to notice the change in sweaters. doi:10. (1996). K.N.[43] In other words. [8] Grimes. Transsaccadic memory and integration during real-world object perception.A longer time spent looking for the visual change creates the impression of poor performance on the task. 2000 May. (1997).K. (1997).. 156–163 [5] McConkie.[42] People are fairly confident in their ability to detect a change.M. K.[41] 8 Change blindness blindness REFERENCES • Neuroimaging • Selective attention • Saccade • Salience (neuroscience) Change blindness blindness is defined as a misplaced confidence in one’s ability to correctly identify visual changes. D. 1-15 [10] Henderson. Kevin. Ruddell (Eds). “On the failure to detect changes in scenes across saccades”. Long-term memory for a common object. Change blindness.563 [7] Currie C. a shorter time in identifying a visual change creates the impression of good performance and thus the individual will be overconfident in this ability. in Akins.S. sentences. (2000).. Chris. James J. G.2 Spotlight effect and change blindness blindness The spotlight effect is a social phenomenon that is defined as an overestimation of the ability of others to notice us. it is the distinction between noticing differences on a person and noticing differences between any images. Psychological Science 8 (5): 368–373. Theoretical models and processes of reading (2nd ed. “Visual stability across saccades while viewing complex pictures” (PDF). Rensink. J.B. 8(1). & Levin.1111/j. M. doi:10..22.J. Trends in Cognitive Sciences.. Perception & Psychophysics.. & Rayner.1 Factors affecting change blindness blindness • Perceived Success . New York: Oxford University Press.W. J.62(4):673-83. Identifying the span of the effective stimulus in reading: Literature review and theories of reading. Currie. Ronald A. In H. Recognition memory for words. Clark.W. pp.tb00427. & Clark. Visual Cognition. J.J. pp. Singer & R.x. 8.14679280. 7 (1/2/3). 398. Irwin D. “To See or not to See: The Need for Attention to Perceive Changes in Scenes”. & Adams. 137–162) [6] McConkie..E (2000). 6. O'Regan. this poor performance is a result of the overestimation of others’ ability to notice us whereas in change blindness blindness it is the overestimation of others’ ability to notice the sweater change.[44] A seemingly obvious change such as another individual changing a sweater during a memory task is rarely noticed. 51–55 [11] O’Regan. • Spot the difference • Visual short term memory 10 References 8.. Current Approaches to Change Blindness.B. but most people exhibit poor performance on a change blindness task.. 34 .1997. J.6 10 puter work stations may be extremely beneficial to increase the reaction time and accuracy.[44] In the spotlight effect. J. (1976). (1979). 287–307 [4] Shepard.[44] However. 11.J. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior. (September 1997).B.

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Psychological Science 10 (5): 438–443. Chabris. PMID 12613678 • Henderson. 14891501. 360-368.08.. Daniel J. Gabriel. A.W. Exploring the informational sources of metaperception: The case of change blindness blindness. Eysenck. “The Role of Fixation Position in Detecting Scene Changes Across Saccades” (PDF). • Re-creation of Simons & Levin experiment by British illusionist Derren Brown . (2004). “Volatile visual representations: failing to detect changes in recently processed information” (PDF). doi:10.2011. “Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events” (PDF)..003. Psychology • Pashler. Consciousness and Cognition 15 (2): 409– 422. doi:10.3758/BF03214339 • Myers. 1059–1074. John M. Simons.. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour. T. David G. M.1111/j. & Anderson. Levin.001 [44] Lawson. “Failure to detect changes to attended objects in motion pictures” (PDF).(2004). Also includes demonstrations of inattentional blindness. (2006). Basic and Applied Social Psychology. Linville JM. “Reduced change blindness suggests enhanced attention to detail in individuals with autism”. Memory. Verification of change blindness phenomenon while managing critical events on a combat information display. doi:10. Mark. [43] Loussouarn. A. Underwood.. Harold (Dec 2002). G.1469-7610. Harold E. Perception & Psychophysics 44 (4): 369–378.8 12 [40] Galpin. M.00183 • Levin. PMID 3226885 • Silverman. “Failure to detect changes to people during a real-world interaction” (PDF). doi:10.2008.1016/j. (2011). (1997). Daniel T. 179-185 [41] DiVita J.07. Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events 28..1080/01973533. pp.3758/BF03208840 EXTERNAL LINKS • Smith. Hayley. Daniel J. ISSN 0031-5117. Nugent W. doi:10.519200 11 Further reading • Becker.x • Simons. doi:10.J. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 9 (4): 744– 750. Hollingworth. D. doi:10. & Proust.2005. A.. Milne. (2009).2010. [42] Baddeley. (requires QuickTime and some require Java) • Dan Dennett's 2003 talk at TED shows some visual illusions including several striking examples of change blindness.concog.1111/14679280. Mack.1016/j. 12(2). Change blindness in driving scenes. M.concog. D. (1998). (2010). doi:10. From Dreams to Psychosis: A European Science Foundation. (2009). Pashler.3758/BF03210419. J. Obermayer R. 20(4). Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 4 (4): 501–506. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 5 (4): 644–649. (1988). 32(4)..C. Andrew (1999). Daniel..01957. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 50 (3): 300–306. The social spotlight increases blindness to change blindness. Christopher (May 1999). ISSN 1069-9384. London: Psychology Press. PMID 10694957 12 External links • Examples of change blindness • Ten demos of change blindness at the University of British Columbia (requires QuickTime) • Demos at the University of Illinois of gradual changes to scenes and examples of motion-picture based change detection. A. doi:10. Daniel T. Human Factors 46(2).3758/BF03196330.. Elizabeth (March 2009).1068/p2952. PMID 16376573 • Simons. “Change blindness and priming: When it does and does not occur”. doi:10. “Familiarity and visual change detection” (PDF).. & Crundall. 205-218.

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