When Good Observers Go Bad: Change Blindness,
Inattentional Blindness, and Visual Experience
Ronald A. Rensink, Cambridge Basic Research, Nissan Technical Center North America, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Several studies (e.g., Becklen & Cervone, 1983; Mack & Rock, 1998; Neisser & Becklen, 1975) have found that observers attending to a particular object or event often fail to report the presence of unexpected items. This has been interpreted as inattentional blindness (IB), a failure to see unattended items (Mack & Rock, 1998). Meanwhile, other studies (e.g., Pashler, 1988; Phillips, 1974; Rensink, O'Regan, & Clark, 1997; Simons, 1996) have found that observers often fail to report the presence of large changes in a display when these changes occur simultaneously with a transient such as an eye movement or flash of the display. This has been interpreted as change blindness (CB), a failure to see unattended changes (Rensink et al., 1997).
In both cases there is a striking failure to report an object or event that would be quite visible under other circumstances. And in both cases there is a widespread (although not universal) belief that the underlying cause has to do with the absence of attention. The question then arises as to how these effects might be related. Is CB the same thing as IB? If not, what is the relation between them? And given that these phenomena deal with failures of subjective perception, what can they teach us about the nature of our visual experience? In particular, what can they teach us about the role played by visual attention?