Blindness to change: what is this perceptual phenomenon and why it exists

Do you know the phenomenon of blindness to change? So that you can understand it quickly, we encourage you to ask yourself if, on the same work path every day, you have noticed any changes in the environment, months later. Your answer has certainly been in the affirmative.

It is the blindness to change: to stop perceiving the changes that are happening in our visual field; these are usually changes that occur suddenly 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 this phenomenon and how it can. be exacerbated.

    Blindness to change: what is it?

    Blindness to change consists of a perceptual phenomenon first described by psychologist Ronald Rensink, 1997. This phenomenon refers to the fact that we are unable to detect or perceive certain changes that occur in our visual field, when these are unexpected or gradual.

    In other words, what happens in the face of this phenomenon is that we do not directly realize the things that change in front of us, even if “we see them”.

    Blind change is a phenomenon particularly studied in recent years, which also covers different areas of knowledge (Neurosciences, cognitive psychology, basic psychology …).

    It should be mentioned that this phenomenon is exacerbated if we also have excessive confidence in our ability to detect possible visual changes that appear in our environment. It is a fact that most of us think that “we can detect anything”, at the visual level..

    But this thinking in fact, besides being unrealistic, opens even more the doors of blindness to change, as we will see later.


    To illustrate the phenomenon of blindness to change, we will give a simple example; imagine we are watching a movie where a store scene appears, with a clerk and a buyer. Imagine the clerk crouching down to grab something (disappearing at this point in the frame), and standing up, being another similar person.

    We probably won’t detect this change. Because? By the phenomenon of blindness to change, which predicts that in the face of such changes (as the example would be, a sudden change), we do not realize 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 has changed depending on the changes made to the person’s visual field; thus, it was not the same as the change introduced was gradual, sudden or sudden.

      Rensink also found that change blindness was greater when changes were introduced during a cut or in a panoramic image.

      To check if you also have this tendency towards blindness in change, you can go and watch some videos on the internet like this:

      Why is this happening?

      One of the possible explanations of the phenomenon of blindness to change (and in fact, the most accepted) is that which refers to the concept of mental economy. Mental economy is an adaptive way of processing information based only on relevant input, which saves us mental effort..

      In other words, according to this explanation, our brain would use the mental economy to process the information that surrounds it from the environment. In other words, we tend to spend the minimum amount of energy needed to perform different cognitive processes.

      This is so because phylogenetically we are programmed for it. With changing blindness, our brain would “spare” the effort of having to process changes that may not be relevant.

        Mental economy

        Also, this energy that “saves” our brain (or our cognitive system) we can use for more important things (it could have a sense of survival, or an adaptive sense).

        Thus, our brain would act as a filter when it processes reality, not processing all the stimuli or inputs it receives (this would be impossible, in addition to unnecessary and inappropriate overload).

        What our brain would do is filter the information and select the data based on whether it is important or not. (Sometimes subconsciously and not always consistently or effectively, it all has to be said).

        It should be noted that some authors, such as Simons and Levin (1998), suggest that the brain only selects (and deals with) details that can be consciously altered by it. This selection is shaped, over the years, by experience and personal consistency.

        Accentuation of the phenomenon and associated factors

        How is the phenomenon of blindness accentuated in the change? One option is to send the person stimuli that capture their attention more and force them to hold it fixed (sustained attention).

        With this, our brain focuses only on one or more details, which makes it easier for the changes that occur in the visual shift to go unnoticed to us (for example, if we witness a theft, it is likely that we are focusing our attention to the thief, and that we “forget” the rest of the elements of the scene).

        Indeed, our brain (or at least that of most “normal” people, without overdose, for example), has limited attention span, And to distribute the attentional resources at its disposal among all the information it receives, prioritizing certain data or others.

        Thus, as we see, this influences not only the quantity of information (or the number of stimuli) but its typology and its quality (it is not the same thing to see a gun to see a loaf of bread. ). In this way, our emotions (eg fear) also condition the type of stimuli to which we will respond first (or mainly).

        Magicians and Illusionists

        Everything we are explaining is used by magicians or magicians to do some of their tricks. like that, they make us focus on something that interests them, to divert it, in turn, from what they don’t want us to see. And, the truth is … it works!

        Are we aware of blindness to change?

        The reality is that we are not aware of this blindness (unless we are aware of it and are aware of it).

        Most of us (sometimes unconsciously) we believe that we value and take care of all that is important in our reality and our environment (including people), and in addition, we believe that we are able to process very specific details (which is, but not always, as shown by blindness to change).

        Can the effect be reduced?

        So how do you reduce the effect of blindness on change? First of all, be aware that it exists. And then, trying to take care of more of the details of the environment, although like many things in life, is a matter of practice!

        Bibliographical references:

        • Montserrat, J. (1998). Visual perception. New library. University psychology. Madrid.
        • Munar, E., Roselló, J. and Sánchez-Cabaco, A. (1999). Attention and perception. Ed. Alliance. Madrid.
        • Rodríguez, A. and De l’Pilar, M. (2002). Limitations of the concept of representation in visual perception: blindness on change, implicit retention and eye movements PhD thesis. Institutional deposit, University of Oviedo.

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