Change Blindness: What It Is And Why This Perceptual Phenomenon Exists

Change blindness

Do you know the phenomenon of change blindness? So that you understand it quickly, we encourage you to ask yourself if, taking the same route to work every day, you have noticed changes in the environment, months after they occurred. Surely your answer was affirmative.

This is change blindness: failing to perceive changes that occur in our visual field; They are generally changes that occur abruptly 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 consists of: why it occurs, how it can be reduced, who can benefit from this phenomenon and how it can be accentuated.

Change blindness: what is it?

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

That is to say, what happens in this phenomenon is that we do not directly notice things that change in front of us, even though “we are seeing them.”

Blindness to change is a phenomenon especially investigated in recent years, which also covers different areas of knowledge (neurosciences, cognitive psychology, basic psychology…).

It is worth mentioning that this phenomenon is accentuated if we also have excessive confidence in our ability to detect possible visual changes that appear in our environment. It is a reality that most of us think that “we can detect everything”, on a visual level..

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But this thought in reality, in addition to being unrealistic, opens the doors even more to blindness to change, as we will see later.


To illustrate the phenomenon of change blindness, let’s give a simple example; Imagine that we are watching a movie where a store scene appears, with a clerk and a buyer. Imagine that the clerk bends down to pick up something (disappearing from the image at that moment), and gets up, being another similar person.

It is likely that we will not detect this change. Because? Due to the phenomenon of change blindness, which predicts that when faced with this type of change (such as the one in the example, an abrupt 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 changed according to the modifications that were made in the person’s visual field.; Thus, it was not the same that the change introduced was gradual, than that it was sudden or abrupt.

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

To check if you also have this tendency to change blindness, you can watch some videos on the Internet like this one:

Why happens?

One of the possible explanations for the phenomenon of change blindness (and in fact, the most accepted) is the one that alludes to the concept of mental economy. Mental economy is an adaptive way of processing information, paying attention only to the relevant inputs, which allows us to save mental effort..

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That is, according to this explanation, our brain would use mental economy when processing the information that surrounds it from the environment. In other words, we tend to spend the minimum energy necessary to carry out the different cognitive processes.

This is because phylogenetically we are programmed for it. With blindness to change, our brain would “save” the effort of having to process changes that may be irrelevant.

The mental economy

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

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

What our brain would do is filter the information and select the data according to whether they are important or not. (sometimes unconsciously and not always coherently or effectively, everything has to be said).

It should be noted that some authors, such as Simons and Levin (1998), suggest that the brain selects (and attends to) only those details that can be modified at a conscious level by it. This selection is shaped, over the years, through experience and personal coherence.

Accentuation of the phenomenon and related factors

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

With this, our brain focuses on one or more details only, which makes it easier for the changes that occur in visual change to go unnoticed by us (for example, if we witness a robbery, we are likely to focus our attention attention on the robber’s gun, and that we “forget” the rest of the elements of the scene).

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This is explained because our brain (or at least, that of most “normal” people, without giftedness, for example), has a limited attention spanand must distribute the attentional resources available to it among all the information it receives, prioritizing some data or others.

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

Magicians and illusionists

All of this that we explain is used by illusionists or magicians to do some of their tricks. So, They make us focus our attention on something that interests them, to divert it, in turn, from what they do not want us to see.. And, the truth is… it works!

Are we aware of change blindness?

The reality is that we are not aware of this blindness (unless we inform ourselves about this phenomenon and become aware of it).

Most of us (sometimes unconsciously) We believe that we appreciate and attend to everything important in our reality and our environment (including people), and furthermore, we believe that we are capable of processing very specific details (which, we do, but not always, as shown by change blindness).

Can the effect be reduced?

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

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