What you see is what you get

Change Blindness is a topic many find amusing, we believe it is crazy that something as drastic as someone`s shirt color can go from a subtle blue to a shocking pink and not even notice it. For those of you who are unaware, change blindness is a perceptual phenomenon that occurs when a change in a visual stimulus is introduced and the observer does not notice it. I am going to tell you about 2 experiments dealing with selective attention and change blindness, believe it or not one of these experiments were accidental with a subject pool of about 800 people.

The first “experiment” that I conducted was an example of change blindness. A coworker and I decided to switch desks for the day because of a special assignment that she was working on. While at her desk, I found using her computer to be extremely annoying because of her huge monitor screen protector. Now when I say huge I mean it, it is big, bulky, and used to protect others from seeing important or confidential information. I took it upon myself to remove the unsightly object from her screen, slightly nervous that she would take offense or find it as an invasion of space. I awaited her to come to the desk to see that I removed it, when she finally did come I was about ready to tell her my reasoning for removing her screen protector but then I realized that she didn’t even notice. Some background for you guys, my coworker has had this position since 2007 and used the same screen protector for over 3, she came to her desk and had full on 20 minute conversations with me and still did not notice the missing screen protector. I am sure there are many different theories that may explain why she hasn’t noticed something that she literally stares at 7 hours a day 5 days a week.

My second example is an interesting one. I currently work at Columbia University where part of my job is to process federal I-9`s and Work Study.  There is a form that I give to the work study students, somewhere between 800-1000 since the semester has begun. The interesting thing about this form is that out of the 800+ people who I asked to complete it, only a staggering 5 so far has noticed the section that says name and date. Every single day I purposely keep quiet to see if anyone will notice that there are lines that say name and date but so far only 5 people (I have been keeping tally) have noticed it before I told them about it. This is a bit of an office joke because we have already established that majority of the people we deal with have selective reading, meaning that they skim through e-mails and paperwork and only see what they want to see. I’ve had people sign new hire contracts clearly stating the pay of their position and go on to ask me when they’re done with the paperwork “so how much am I getting paid”, talk about signing your soul away, mind you many of these people are law students…..

Work Study letter

Just a note that this is a template of the letter but instead of “To”  in that spot we changed it to say “name”, but still no one notices. This is a great example of selective attention, just not in the way you would normally think. Most people think of selective attention as listening to the right convo or paying attention to a movie instead of the ongoing environment, but you would never really think that it would also go as far as how you read an email or a story. Broadbent`s ,Treisman’s and Deutsch`s bottleneck theories would explain that not all sensory material gets processed,  and it seems to me that this can at times be true because when I tell the students that they forgot to add their name and date they still look all over the paper trying to find a section to put it.  So even though it is possible to engage in dichotic listening such as in the Dear Aunt Jane experiment, where participants were able to process familiar information from the unintended message, There needs to be further investigation when it comes to selective attention in reading.

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