Down the Rabbit Hole
Virtual Conference

Change Blindess

The sequel to the Spot the Bear ad that caused a little furor a while back has dropped.

This is not an imitation, although it is stolen, and stolen well.

The idea behind it is called change blindness, a fascinating perceptual phenomenon that gives an indication as to how we actually process visual data.

The original experiment was done by two of the progenitors of behavioural economics - Levins and Simons, in the door experiment.

Someone stops a student on campus and asks for directions. Then, while directions are being given, workmen carry a door between subject and someone, obscuring the view of the lost person. At which point, the person is replaced with someone else as the door goes by.

Amazingly, the people giving directions almost never notice.

Actually, it's not amazing at all, because this is how perception works: making sense of visual data is an act of filtering out unimportant information. The amount of raw information firing into your visual cortex is incomprehensible. In this context, our brains decide what the person looks like is irrelevant - they key thing is the directions.

The reason we think it's amazing that people don't notice that it's a different person, which is also the reason that this spot works, is because of a metacognitive error that Levins and Simons call change blindness blindness.

We rarely notice significant massive changes in the visual field when our perception is disrupted by things like saccades or, the filmic equivalent, tracking shots, like in the spot above.

But we tend to think we will. Repeatedly. Even when we are shown that we don't.

This is because it deviates from what we believe about how we see. That is, we believe our eyes beam reality directly into our brains, because that's how we perceive perceiving.

But perception is not reality.