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Joshua J New; A content-specific attenuation of change blindness: Preferential attention to animate beings in natural scenes. Journal of Vision 2003;3(9):643. doi: 10.1167/3.9.643.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Considerable changes to an image often go undetected by observers if performed during a brief visual disruption (e.g. a saccade or global mask). This change blindness however is attenuated for regions and objects independently rated as “centres of interest” (Rensink, O'Regan, & Clark, 1997). This suggests that the detection of scene changes is mediated by the subjective “interest” of image features and their consequent attraction of visual attention. To conclude that some objects are preferentially attended due to their greater perceived interest however begs the more fundamental question: Why are some objects more interesting—more attention commanding—than others? One possible dimension for the objective prediction of “interest” and visual attention is that between animate and inanimate objects. In this experiment it was hypothesized that animate objects, because of their evolutionarily-persistent biological importance and propensity to change meaningfully, should be attended more closely than inanimate objects. This hypothesis was tested in a change-detection paradigm wherein subjects viewed a series of complex, natural scenes. In each scene, an object was either alternately added and deleted, reversed in orientation, or left the same in each display of the image. Changes to animate objects (people and animals) were detected more quickly and more frequently than changes to inanimate objects (plants, small artifacts, and large artifacts) in the first experiment and replication. Further experiments revealed that the observed advantages for detecting changes to animate objects were not attributable to low-level visual features or a learned expectation of change. These findings suggest that viewer interest and visual attention to natural scenes—although appearing largely subjective and idiosyncratic—can be partially accounted for by objective dimensions such as that between animate and inanimate objects.
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