, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 644-649

Failure to detect changes to people during a real-world interaction


Recent research on change detection has documented surprising failures to detect visual changes occurring between views of a scene, suggesting the possibility that visual representations contain few details. Although these studies convincingly demonstrate change blindness for objects in still images and motion pictures, they may not adequately assess the capacity to represent objects in the real world. Here we examine and reject the possibility that change blindness in previous studies resulted from passive viewing of 2-D displays. In one experiment, an experimenter initiated a conversation with a pedestrian, and during the interaction, he was surreptitiously replaced by a different experimenter. Only half of the pedestrians detected the change. Furthermore, successful detection depended on social group membership; pedestrians from the same social group as the experimenters detected the change but those from a different social group did not. A second experiment further examined the importance of this effect of social group. Provided that the meaning of the scene is unchanged, changes to attended objects can escape detection even when they occur during a natural, real-world interaction. The discussion provides a set of guidelines and suggestions for future research on change blindness.

The authors contributed equally to this report, and authorship order was determined arbitrarily. Thanks to Leon Rozenblit, Carter Smith, Julia Noland, and Joy Beck for helping to carry out the experiments and to Linda Hermer for reading an earlier draft of the manuscript. D.J.S. was supported by NSF and Jacob K. Javits fellowships, and parts of this research appeared in his doctoral thesis.