The New York Times Science section has a recent article, Blind to Change, Even as It Stares Us in the Face, by Natalie Angier (you can access it without charge by signing up to their site). The article follows along some of the lines laid out by Jeremy Wolfe of Harvard Medical School, at a symposium on Art and Neuroscience.
Angier discusses Wolfe’s use of Ellsworth Kelly’s ‘Study for Colors for a Large Wall’ to illustrate what is typically called ‘change blindness’: ‘the frequent inability of our visual system to detect alterations to something staring us straight in the face.’ Kelly’s painting is an 8×8 grid of coloured squares, and Wolfe apparently showed repeatedly slides of the picture, sometimes with the colours of squares altered. When he first showed the slide, Angier writes: ‘We drank it in greedily, we scanned every part of it, we loved it, we owned it, and, whoops, time for a test.’ After the test, when the audience was thoroughly uncertain about its ability to recall even the basic patterns of colours; ‘By the end of the series only one thing was clear: We had gazed on Ellsworth Kelly’s masterpiece, but we hadn’t really seen it at all,’ Angier reports.
Change blindness is a fun phenomenon to put into research design. Researchers get away with some really amazing manipulations without their subjects recognizing them. Some experiments report that subjects fail to notice, as Angier details, whole stories of buildings disappearing or that ‘one poor chicken in a field of dancing cartoon hens had suddenly exploded.’
Dr. Wolfe also recalled a series of experiments in which pedestrians giving directions to a Cornell researcher posing as a lost tourist didn’t notice when, midway through the exchange, the sham tourist was replaced by another person altogether.
I’ve also seen discussions of experiments in which subjects watched a videotape and failed to notice a guy in a gorilla suit walking through the middle of the video because they were asked to pay attention to other details.
But is it that we’re blind to change, or that we just trust the world to remember for us, and we’re really good at getting the information we need?
Continue reading “‘Blind to change’ or just ‘mostly blind’?”