Why it’s so hard to spot the dif­fer­ence

Popular Science - - HEAD TRIP - by Ellen Airhart / pho­to­graphs by Brian Klutch

GAZE AT THE TOP IM­AGE OF BEN Franklin’s fa­mous kite study. Now, the one be­low it. See the changes? (An­swers to the right)

You prob­a­bly can’t, and you’re not alone. In fact, what psy­chol­o­gists call change blind­ness is re­ally a power strug­gle rag­ing in our brains.

When we view some­thing, we no­tice big de­tails—the peo­ple, the for­est they are in, per­haps the house in the back—and fail to zero in on less im­por­tant fea­tures like the num­ber of shrubs in the for­est or the house’s finer de­tails (hint, hint). Dan Si­mons, a psy­chol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­bana-Champaign, says that’s be­cause if we spot­ted every­thing, we’d be un­able to fo­cus our at­ten­tion. So our brain fails to log de­tails it deems unim­por­tant. When we flip back and forth try­ing to find them, we can’t be­cause we never no­ticed them in the first place. How­ever, once we do see the dis­par­ity, it gets stored as one of the ob­vi­ous el­e­ments, and then we can’t seem to un­see it.

Si­mons says he’s not sur­prised we don’t en­code every­thing we see. What shocks him is that peo­ple think they do. Some of his study par­tic­i­pants claim to al­ways no­tice Hol­ly­wood con­ti­nu­ity er­rors—like when the num­ber on John Con­nor’s es­cap­ing Cessna 172 Sky­hawk changes in the third Ter­mi­na­tor movie. When, in fact, they of­ten miss them, he says. “We’re not aware of all of the changes we never saw.”

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