To See or Not to See: The Need for Attention to Perceive Changes in Scenes
Ronald A. Rensink, J. Kevin O'Regan & James J. Clark, Cambridge Basic Research, Nissan Research & Development, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Psychological Science, 8: 368-373. 1997.   [pdf]


When looking at a scene, our impression as observers is that we see its entire structure in great detail and can immediately notice any changes in it. However, when brief blank fields are placed between alternating displays of an original and a modified scene, a striking failure of perception is induced: identification of changes becomes extremely difficult, even when changes are large and made repeatedly. Identification is much faster when a verbal cue is provided, showing that poor visibility is not the cause of this difficulty. Identification is also faster for objects mentioned in brief verbal descriptions of the scene. These results support the idea that observers never form a complete, detailed representation of their surroundings. In addition, results also indicate that attention is required to perceive change, and that in the absence of localized motion signals it is guided on the basis of high-level "interest".

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