Psychological Studies: We don’t notice what’s right in front of us

Do you think you know what’s happening around you? Harvard and Kent State University researchers approached tourists on a college campus in 1998 to assess how much people notice of their immediate surroundings. An actress came to a pedestrian in the study and asked for directions. Two people carrying a large wooden door passed between the actor and the pedestrian while the pedestrian was providing the instructions, blocking their sight of each other for several seconds. 

During that time, another actor, one of a different height and structure, and with a different outfit, appearance, and tone, replaced the actor. The substitution was not noticed by a full half of the participants.

The experiment was one of the first to explain the “switch blindness” effect, which demonstrates just how selective we are about what we draw in from any particular visual environment— and it seems we rely substantially more than we might expect on memory and pattern recognition upon.


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