, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 744-750

Volatile visual representations: Failing to detect changes in recently processed information


Research documenting people’s inability to detect large changes in visual scenes suggests that visual representations may be sparse and volatile, providing no cumulative record of the attended items in a scene. However, these studies have failed to control for attention. Thus, the visual system may construct a cumulative record of all attended stimuli and still miss such changes, because they involve items that were never attended to. In two experiments, subjects saw 12-digit arrays and identified either the highest digit in the array (Experiment 1) or the lowest digit not in the array (Experiment 2). Subsequent change-detection tasks revealed that subjects often failed to detect changes that involved the same digits they had previously identified to perform the digit tasks successfully. This provides additional evidence that our usable visual representations are relatively impoverished and volatile.

This work was supported by National Science Foundation Grant SBR 9729778 and National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH45584.