The Change Blindness Effect

If something in your visual field changed dramatically right before your eyes, you would notice it immediately, right? While you might think that you see or are aware of all the changes that happen in your immediate environment, the reality is that there is simply too much information for your brain to fully process and be aware of every single thing that happens in the world around you.

In many cases, big shifts can happen in your visual field and you are never even aware of these changes. Psychologists refer to this as change blindness.

The phenomenon of change blindness can be demonstrated even when the change in question is large. For example, in an experiment, researchers engaged participants in a conversation with a stranger. This stranger was then replaced by a different stranger during a brief interruption. Surprisingly, only about half of the participants noticed the swap.

In our daily life, attention is limited, so we have to pick and choose what we focus on. We can really only focus on one thing at any given time, so it is that one thing that we pay attention to in great detail. As a result, large volumes of information in the world around us simply pass by our awareness because we lack the resources to attend to it.

The concept of change blindness highlights a potential problem for UX professionals. Most of the time, user researchers and UX architects begin their research with specific goals in mind, and are focused on a specific aspect of the product. But with this focus comes the risk that they will be blind to other aspects of the user’s experience.  We need to reserve space in our work for uncovering those things that we don’t know we don’t know, and make it an official part of the process.

Summing-up: Depending on our focus, our brains can be fully blind to changes going on around us. Change blindness can cause users to not see features or add “Value” to a product. You can add “Value” and increase perception by placing changes inline with user tasks, breaking expectation, highlighting changes or releasing complete features and always communicating the value to the user.

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