Failure to detect changes to people during a real-world interaction

Daniel J. Simons, Daniel T. Levin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent research on change detection has documented surprising failures to detect visual changes occurring between views of a scene, suggesting the possibility that visual representations contain few details. Although these studies convincingly demonstrate change blindness for objects in still images and motion pictures, they may not adequately assess the capacity to represent objects in the real world. Here we examine and reject the possibility that change blindness in previous studies resulted from passive viewing of 2-D displays. In one experiment, an experimenter initiated a conversation with a pedestrian, and during the interaction, he was surreptitiously replaced by a different experimenter. Only half of the pedestrians detected the change. Furthermore, successful detection depended on social group membership; pedestrians from the same social group as the experimenters detected the change but those from a different social group did not. A second experiment further examined the importance of this effect of social group. Provided that the meaning of the scene is unchanged, changes to attended objects can escape detection even when they occur during a natural, real-world interaction. The discussion provides a set of guidelines and suggestions for future research on change blindness.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)644-649
JournalPsychonomic Bulletin and Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • change detection
  • motion picture
  • object file
  • change blindness
  • visual detail


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