Change Blindness

24.03.2015 |

Episode #2 of the course “Brilliant Social Psychology Experiments”

How aware are you of your surroundings? Could you accurately remember your surroundings in an emergency situation? According to researchers from Kent State and Harvard University, you may be less cognizant than you understand. Seventeen years ago, scientists singled out various people walking through the campus of a college to understand more about the types of detail that they noticed about the immediate surrounding area.

This experiment used actors who posed as people who were lost and asked for directions. As the person who was stopped gave the actor information, a large door made of wood carried by two people passed in between the actor and the person giving directions. This door blocked the view of the actor and the participant for more than two seconds. As this door blocked the view of the participant, the original actor would swap places with a new actor. But this new actor would have different physical characteristics—height, weight, voice, and clothing, among other features. Astoundingly, more than half of the participants didn’t notice that the first actor was replaced by a completely different person.

In some scenarios, individuals may fail to perceive crucial changes to the world around them, especially if the switch occurs when the person involved in the scenario experiences a circumstance that impedes their vision. This particular study was able to show correctly how the phenomenon of “change blindness” worked in a real-life situation. Change blindness helps us understand how particular we are about the information that we receive from our immediate environment given what we see with our eyes. Moreover, these scientists were able to prove that we tend to use what we think we can remember through pattern recognition to make sense of the world rather than use actual details, and that we make these errors much more frequently than we sometimes know (or care to admit).


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