New technology shows that people often see much less of what?s around them than they think. Tests show subjects miss even major events that happen right before their eyes. This may be one reason why police find eye witnesses so unreliable. During the recent D.C. area sniper spree by John Lee Malvo and John Allen Muhammad, witnesses said they saw a white van, but it turned out no white van was involved. Most people don’t notice their own blindness.
”It used to be thought that perception was about us creating a copy of our environment inside our heads,” says researcher Ron Rensink. Now he knows that people can take in and store only a tiny portion of the scene around them and often don’t notice when major things change. Rensink started studying ”change blindness” in the 1990s, while studying the psychology of driving. He noted many traffic accidents were categorized as ”driver looked but failed to see.” As he learned more about change blindness, he became afraid to cross the street. ”You stop trusting your visual system,” he says.
Researchers aren’t sure how change blindness comes about. They think that our brains don’t process a complete picture of our surroundings, so we don?t notice when something changes, unless our attention is grabbed by movement. To investigate change blindness, researchers show people scenes, interrupt their view while they make significant changes (so they won?t be tipped off by motion), then note whether or not they can tell what’s different.
In one experiment, people look at a scene of soldiers boarding a plane. The screen briefly goes blank, then the scene reappears with a large part of it different. A large patch of color or a large object may be added or missing. Researchers are shocked by how much people fail to see. A whole tree can come and go or a large patch change color but this remains undetected for a long time.
In one experiment, 90% of subjects said they would notice if the scarf on a woman in a video disappeared, but in reality, none of them noticed. Rensink says, ”You don’t realize you’re missing all kinds of stuff. Even when it’s right in front of you, you’re missing stuff all the time.”
Could this be why some people see UFOs all the time?while others don’t?
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