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Sensation and Perception

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Motion-induced Blindness

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What we see in our surroundings does not always match the reality of the physical world. Sometimes, our brains actually erase sensory information.

In certain situations, like driving on a busy and narrow highway at night, a driver might find himself staring into oncoming headlights. When this happens, the taillights of the car immediately in front of him can temporarily disappear.

This phenomenon is an example of motion-induced blindness, a perceptual illusion in which the brain discards part of the visual field when motion occurs simultaneously.

In this video, we describe the elements used to create the illusion in a laboratory setting based on the methods of Bonneh and colleagues. We will also determine the frequency at which stimuli disappear and provide additional scenarios where the brain alters awareness of the world.

In this experiment, participants observe a simple animation with three basic features: a square containing bright blue crosses on a black background, bright yellow discs within the orderly pattern, and a centered fixation point.

For every 30-s trial, participants are asked to fixate their eyes on the center point and attend to the stimuli as a whole while the background rotates in continuous motion.

During this time, they’ll report how many of the yellow discs vanish, which serves as the dependent variable. If one or more disappear, motion-induced blindness is expressed.

In this case, the yellow circles are invariant and don’t rotate as they should if they were on the same surface with the moving squares. Consequently, the brain concludes that they must not be real and removes them from awareness, thereby distorting physical reality.

As the first step, verify that stimuli have been accurately animated.

Then, greet a participant in the lab and have them sit comfortably in front of a monitor and keyboard.

To begin, explain that the participant should fixate on the white dot and attend to the yellow discs, while the square of blue crosses rotates. Indicate that the 'J' key should be held down when one yellow disc disappears, 'K' if two are absent, and 'L' for all three. If all objects are perceived, completely release keys.

Go ahead and turn off the room lights to reduce glare and start the program. Note that every participant should complete a total of five trials, each one lasting 30 s, with the yellow discs in a shifted location every time; during these instances, perception may change and the computer will record all responses behind the scenes.

When the participant has finished, thank them for taking part in the experiment.

To analyze the data, compute the percent of time that one, two, or all three yellow discs were not perceived by the participant and graph the results.

Notice that participants saw one disappear more often than two or three. If the brain believes that the dots may not really be there—but is also uncertain—then it makes sense that one will be deleted more frequently than all.

Now that you are familiar with the motion-induced blindness illusion, let’s look at a recent theory of why the brain deletes items from awareness, as well as insights into the functioning of the parietal cortex.

In 2008, researchers New and Scholl developed the Perceptual Scotoma theory to explain why motion-induced blindness happens. They suggested that the human brain mistakes the yellow dots on the screen for scotomas, which are injuries to the retina. People with scotomas should experience an empty space in their visual perceptions, but they do not.

The reason is that the brain learns to discount the empty space caused by the scotoma because it is invariant with respect to the rest of the outside world. That is, it must originate from inside the eye, and as a result, the brain removes the blank space from awareness.

This is also why an individual who wears glasses is not always aware that they are dirty; the brain removes the dirt specks!

In another study assessing conscious perception, Funk and Pettigrew used transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, to investigate where motion-induced blindness is induced in the brain. They found that the disappearance and appearance of stimuli can be modified with TMS pulses to the parietal cortex, an area implicated in visuospatial attention.

By combining motion-induced blindness and TMS in patients with parietal cortex damage, especially those that experience visual extinction, it is possible that a therapeutic procedure could be found to alleviate symptoms.

You’ve just watched JoVE’s video on the motion-induced blindness illusion. Now you should have a good understanding of how to incorporate the elements and run the experiment, as well as how to analyze and assess the results.

Thanks for watching!

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