Change blindness: what is it and why does this perceptual phenomenon exist?
A curious phenomenon that often occurs in our way of perceiving reality.
Do you know the phenomenon of change blindness? To help you understand it quickly, we encourage you to ask yourself if, while walking the same route to work every day, you have noticed changes in your environment, months after they occurred. Your answer is probably yes.
This is what change blindness is all about: not noticing changes in our field of vision, usually changes that occur abruptly or gradually. But who described this phenomenon? What other curiosities have you found in relation to this phenomenon?
In addition to answering these questions, in this article we will focus on explaining what change blindness is: why it occurs, how it can be reduced, who can benefit from it and how it can be accentuated.
Change blindness: what is it?
Change blindness consists of a perceptual phenomenon described for the first time by the psychologist Ronald Rensinkin 1997. This phenomenon refers to the fact that we are unable to detect or perceive certain changes that occur in our visual field, when they are unexpected or gradual.
In other words, what happens in the face of this phenomenon is that we do not notice things that change in front of us, even though we are "seeing" them.
Change blindness is a phenomenon a phenomenon that has been especially researched in recent years, which also covers different areas of knowledge (neurosciences, cognitive psychology, basic psychology...).
It is worth mentioning that this phenomenon is accentuated if, in addition, we have an excessive confidence in our ability to detect possible visual changes that appear in our environment. It is a reality that most of us think that "we can detect everything" at a visual level..
But this thinking, besides being unrealistic, opens even more the doors to blindness to change, as we will see below.
To illustrate the phenomenon of change blindness, let's use a simple example; imagine that we are watching a movie where a store scene appears, with a clerk and a shopper. Imagine that the sales clerk bends down to pick up something (disappearing at that moment from the image), and gets up, being another similar person.
It is likely that we will not detect this change. Why? Because of the phenomenon of change blindness, which predicts that in the face of this type of change (such as the one in the example, an abrupt change), we do not notice them..
Origin and curiosities of this phenomenon of perception.
Change blindness, as we have seen, was first studied and described by psychologist Ronald Rensink in 1997. Rensink found that this perceptual phenomenon changed according to the modifications that were made in the person's field of visionThus, it was not the same for the change introduced to be gradual as for it to be sudden or abrupt.
Rensink also found that the phenomenon of change blindness was greater when the changes were introduced during a cut or in a panoramic image.
In order to check if you also have this tendency to change blindness, you can go to some videos on the Internet like this one:
Why does it happen?
One of the possible explanations for the phenomenon of change blindness (and in fact, the most accepted) is the one that alludes to the concept of mental economy. Mental economy is an adaptive way of processing information by paying attention only to the relevant inputs, which allows us to save mental effort..
That is, according to this explanation, our brain would use mental economy when processing the information that surrounds it from the environment. In other words, we tend to expend the minimum energy necessary to perform the different cognitive processes.
This is because we are phylogenetically programmed to do so. With change blindness, our brain would "save" itself the effort of having to process changes that may be irrelevant..
In addition, this energy that our brain (or our cognitive system) "saves", we can use it for more important things (this could have a sense of survival, or an adaptive sense).
Thus, our brain would act as a filter when processing reality, not processing all the stimuli or inputs it receives (that would be impossible, besides an unnecessary and maladaptive overload).
What our brain would do is to filter the information and select the data according to their importance or not (sometimes unconsciously and unadaptively). (sometimes unconsciously and not always coherently or effectively, everything has to be said).
It should be noted that some authors, such as Simons and Levin (1998), suggest that the brain selects (and attends to) only those details that can be modified at a conscious level by the brain. This selection is shaped, over the years, through experience and personal coherence.
Accentuation of the phenomenon and related factors
How is the phenomenon of change blindness accentuated? One option is to send the person stimuli that capture their attention even more and require them to keep it fixed (sustained attention).
With this, our brain focuses on one or more details only, which makes it easier for the changes that occur in the visual change to go unnoticed by us (for example, if we witness a robbery, we are likely to focus our attention on the robber's gun, and "forget" the rest of the elements of the scene).
This is explained by the fact that our brain (or at least, that of most "normal" people, without an endowment, for example), has a limited attentional capacityand must distribute the attentional resources available to it among all the information it receives, prioritizing some data or others.
Thus, as we can see, it is not only the quantity of information (or number of stimuli) that has an influence, but also its typology and quality (seeing a gun is not the same as seeing a loaf of bread). In this way, our emotions (for example, fear) also condition the type of stimuli to which we will attend first (or primarily).
Magicians and illusionists
All this that we explained is used by illusionists or magicians to perform some of their tricks. Thus, they make us focus our attention on something that interests them, in order to divert it, in turn, from what they don't want us to see.. And, the truth is... it works!
Are we aware of the blindness to change?
The reality is that we are not aware of this blindness (unless we inform ourselves of this phenomenon and become aware of it).
Most of us (sometimes unconsciously) believe that we appreciate and attend to everything important in our reality. believe that we appreciate and attend to everything important in our reality and in our environment (including people), and furthermore, we believe that we are capable of processing very specific details. and our environment (including people), and furthermore, we believe that we are capable of processing very specific details (which, we are, but not always, as change blindness demonstrates).
Can the effect be reduced?
So, how to reduce the effect of change blindness? First of all, by being aware that it exists. And then by trying to attend to more details of the environment, although like many things in life, it is a matter of practice!
- Montserrat, J. (1998). Visual perception. Biblioteca Nueva. Psicología Universidad. Madrid.
- Munar, E., Roselló, J. and Sánchez-Cabaco, A. (1999). Attention and perception. Alianza. Madrid.
- Rodríguez, A. and Del Pilar, M. (2002). Limitations of the concept of representation in visual perception: change blindness, implicit retention and eye movements. Doctoral dissertation. Institutional Repository, University of Oviedo.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)