Seeing, Sensing, and Scrutinizing. R.A. Rensink, Cambridge Basic Research, Nissan Research & Development, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Vision Research,40: 1469-1487. 2000.   [pdf]


Large changes in a scene often become difficult to notice if made during an eye movement, image flicker, movie cut, or other such disturbance. It is argued here that this change blindness serve as a useful tool to explore various aspects of vision. This argument centers around the proposal that focused attention is needed for the explicit perception of change. Given this, the study of change perception can provide a useful way to determine the nature of visual attention, and to cast new light on the way that it is--and is not--involved in visual perception.

To illustrate the power of this approach, this paper surveys its use in exploring three different aspects of vision. The first concerns the general nature of seeing. To explain why change blindness can be easily induced in experiments but apparently not in everyday life, it is proposed that perception involves a virtual representation, where object representations do not accumulate, but are formed as needed. An architecture containing both attentional and nonattentional streams is proposed as a way to implement this scheme. The second aspect concerns the ability of observers to detect change even when they have no visual experience of it. This sensing is found to take on at least two forms: detection without visual experience (but still with conscious awareness), and detection without any awareness at all. It is proposed that these are both due to the operation of a nonattentional visual stream. The final aspect considered is the nature of visual attention itself--the mechanisms involved when scrutinizing items. Experiments using controlled stimuli show the existence of various limits on visual search for change. It is shown that these limits provide a powerful means to map out the attentional mechanisms involved.

Back to The Need for Attention to See Change.