For the last week of December, we’re re-posting some of our favorite posts from 2011.
Jay Livingston, at MontClair SocioBlog, alerted me to a fascinating phenomenon called “change blindness.” The term refers to the fact that people must choose what to pay attention to in any given setting. Accordingly, when the details they’ve decided aren’t important change, they don’t notice. This often includes the very people they are interacting with.
In an experiment by psychologist Daniel Simons, an assistant behind a counter, pretending to sign students in for an experiment, is surreptitiously replaced by another person. A full three-quarters of the people don’t notice. Awesome:
Here is a shorter illustration of a similar experiment with the same results (pictured above):
If you haven’t had enough yet, here’s one more example that shows that you can even switch race and gender and it still works!
See also our post on Privilege and Perception.Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Mamie — April 25, 2011
My years of waitressing could have told you that.
Penny — April 25, 2011
I work in a library and this happens all the time when it's time to switch the staff on the front desks. People absolutely refuse to believe that you weren't the person they were speaking to a minute ago. I have had a really hard time convincing someone that they were just now speaking to my elderly male bearded colleague and not me (female, young, definitely not bearded).
Missdisco — April 25, 2011
This is what happens when no one cares about the person behind the counter. Sigh.
Missdisco — April 25, 2011
I guess with the counter example you'd just also get used to it withdifferent people passing you the coffee who took your order and the like.
Kit M. — April 25, 2011
Huh. I'm rather surprised. I kind of assumed that most people took in faces unconsciously, and kept a pretty accurate mental image of them for the short term regardless of whether they were trying to.
Personally, I'm shy and bad with faces, but for that very reason I doubt I'd make these mistakes (at least in the short them). Because I'm trying to compensate for what I think are my flaws, I make a point of looking at the faces of people who are helping me, and of remembering the easy-to-remember characteristics like race, gender, age, hair color, and facial hair. Of course, I still might confuse two young, clean-shaven white males with each other.
JBee — April 25, 2011
I know personally I have trouble with not paying enough attention to people to remember their appearance later. I went for weeks in school thinking a guy in my biology class and a guy in my marching band were the same person. I was wrong. They were just both white guys of sort of similar builds with light brown hair. Man, was that embarrassing when one of them caught on to my mistake.
It seems in this kind of situation, the cue of the guy popping up right where the other guy had just bent down is so strong an indicator that it should be the same person, that it overwhelms your reasoning unless you really had been paying attention to the details, even in an obvious experiment setting.
It reminds me of something I saw in an episode of the tv show Pretender, where they were showing a psychology class, and staged a mock shooting, followed by asking students for details on the shooter. No one in the class could really identify any features about the person. I think most people default to not observing details very closely, unless we put forth effort to do so.
Chlorine — April 26, 2011
This one is my favorite example of this... complete with the planted photo in the camera.
CHR — April 26, 2011
Wow, Simons' shirt changes its color! ;)
ZoeLouise — April 27, 2011
Wonder why the ones who did not notice were mostly (3/4) men, then the examples of people who did notice were women?
qwerty — April 27, 2011
Percepción Selectiva | Neuromarca — May 2, 2011
[...] sorpresas reservadas. Nuestra atención puede condicionar en tanta medida. Gracias a Aitor llego a este artículo que recoge los sorprendentes experimentos de Daniel Simmons. Estos experimentos demuestran que la [...]
Violent and Sexist Video Games, and their effects on Gamers | The Sociology of Video Games — April 18, 2013
[...] and Jim Sterling) . This idea has developed in small degrees, or in other words is a case of change blindness, in which they now have extremely scantily clad women as their front cover art with little to no [...]