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What if you saw something that rocked your world … and you didn’t notice?

ResearchBlogging.orgIf you’re a regular reader of Cognitive Daily, you’re relatively accustomed to seeing surprising things. Indeed, it’s gotten to the point where you might even expect it. You’ve seen optical illusions and videos that baffle the imagination. Yet most participants in psychology research studies aren’t aware of the many ways the mind can be “tricked.” One of the most dramatic tricks, which we’ve discussed several times, is the phenomenon of Change Blindness. An object can change right before your eyes, and you’re likely not to notice. When you’re made aware of the change, you find it hard to believe that you could have been so dense — and you’re not alone; nearly everyone falls for it.

In several studies, a student or other unwitting recruit is being interviewed by an actor, who is then substituted for a completely different person, and the recruit is usually unsurprised by the change. But even though we don’t overtly notice these major changes, perhaps it still affects us in some unconscious way.

Travis Proulx and Steven Heine had 81 student volunteers fill out a questionnaire about their entertainment preferences. For one group of students, partway through the experiment, when the female experimenter went to retrieve a second questionnaire, she secretly switched with another identically-dressed experimenter, who administered the second portion of the test (here’s a video of the swap [2.8 MB]). Another group instead answered questions about their own death, designed to increase their sense of mortality. A final group served as a control, with no experimenter swap or mortality questions.

Finally, all three groups read a scenario about the arrest of a prostitute, and were asked to act as a judge and determine the amount of a punitive bond ranging from $0 to $1000. Did swapping experimenters affect their judgment? Here are the results:

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