Cognitive Daily

How do you detect change?

This week’s study is a simple test. You’ll first be directed to a Quicktime movie of a painting. The painting will flash repeatedly, changing slighly between flashes. You have 9 seconds to identify the change; then your browser will automatically redirect to a survey, with (as usual) 5 questions to answer (most important, of course: what changes in the picture?). The whole thing should take less than a minute to do, so why not give it a whirl?

Make sure you’re ready to look closely at a flashing picture before you click on the link to start!

UPDATE: We’ve received 250 responses, in record time. You can still see the painting, and you’ll be redirected to this post. I’ve opened up the comments, so let us know what you think.

Click here to begin

By the way, here’s the information on the painting:

Eugčne Delacroix
French, 1798 – 1863
Christopher Columbus and His Son at La Rábida, 1838

What we’re trying to do with this test is to see if we can identify relevant factors in how people identify change. It should be more clear when we publish the results next Friday.

As usual, you have until 11:59 p.m. U.S. Eastern time Wednesday, January 25 to participate, or until we’ve collected 250 responses, whichever comes first.

I’m going to close the comments for this post so that readers aren’t tempted to give clues about what changes!

Here are the survey questions:

  1. What items did you notice changing in the painting?
  2. Which item did you notice changing first?
  3. In general, what is the first thing you notice when you enter a room?
  4. What is your gender?
  5. What is your age


  1. #1 spautz
    January 21, 2006

    I’ve had trouble finding changes in animations like this in the past, but this particular one didn’t work at all on me…. I saw the appearing/disappearing feature in the very first animation cycle, which I’ve never done before. What “blank frame” duration is the animation running at?

    *a few minutes later*
    Upon rereading the questions and reviewing the animation a few times, I think I see what you did—that’s pretty sneaky. =)

    What led you to choose this specific picture/animation? Do you think the results would differ if the relevant features were further apart in the image, or if they weren’t in sync?

  2. #2 Dave Munger
    January 22, 2006

    Here’s a question for those who participated in the survey:

    We’ve heard from a reader using Firefox on a PC who couldn’t get the survey to work. He said it was working fine with Explorer. Since I’m on a Mac, I really can’t check (it works fine in Mac Firefox) Can anyone else confirm this? Or was it an isolated incident? If you’re a PC Firefox user, please let us know either way.

  3. #3 Daniel Sroka
    January 22, 2006

    When I watched the animation the first time, it was very interesting to feel your brain work through the process of figuring out what was happening: “ok, a painting, fine… hey, wait!… what’s happening? something changed? what…..? OH! There it is.”

    I then went back and advanced through it frame by frame, and found that while I caught one change, I completely missed another one. Very interesting to see which object I noticed changing (the person) and what I didn’t (the arch)! Although, even though I didn’t process the second object changing (I couldn’t name it), I’m pretty sure it contributed to my brain’s overall awareness of “change happening”. Curious.

  4. #4 Piar
    January 22, 2006

    1) a persons disappearing (it looked like two at almost the same place) and the arc in the back
    2) the persons (well, didn’t notice that it was two at first)
    3) if there’s someone in th room
    4) male
    5) 19 y/o

    addition, PC firefox user, I don’t know if I were supposed so get to another place? tried in IE but it sent me here too after the video

  5. #5 Jen
    January 22, 2006

    I’m using Firefox on a PC and it worked fine.

  6. #6 Dave Munger
    January 22, 2006

    Piar, you were sent to a different site initially; now there have been more than 250 responses so we’re not accepting more “official” responses. If you want to respond here (as you did), you can, but your results won’t be tabulated.

    What I was looking for was Firefox users who had seen the original survey, like Jen. Thanks, Jen! Looks like my correspondent may have had an isolated problem.

  7. #7 R J Keefe
    January 22, 2006

    1-2. The only change that I noted was the disappearance of the group on the left. I noticed it at once.
    3. I look at the people last, after I’ve sized up the space.
    4. Male.
    5. 58.

  8. #8 Jackie
    January 22, 2006

    I only noticed two things, and I don’t know exactly what they are. I think a person or two (brownish blobs) disappeared on the left, and a painting or some kind of architecture thing disappeared near the doorway. I noticed the person(s) first, and the thing on top of the door next.
    The first thing I noticed were the people on the right.
    I am 15.

  9. #9 Scott Reynen
    January 22, 2006

    I only noticed the door frame’s top changing, although I thought I was only looking for one thing, so I probably wasn’t looking as close after I saw that. I think the first thing I notice when entering a room is any people present. I’m 25, male.

  10. #10 Valentin
    January 23, 2006

    Tha only thing I noticed was the dissapearing of the person in the left of the viewer.

  11. #11 Bob Mottram
    January 23, 2006

    After ten seconds I noticed a person on the left appearing and dissappearing on the left, but I didn’t really notice anything else. Probably the first thing I notice on entering a room is whether it’s occupied. I’m 33, male.

  12. #12 Leah
    January 24, 2006

    I took the survey when you first posted it (firefox PC user here too). I totally noticed the people but did not catch the arch. Now that I watch it again, it’s so blindingly obvious. d’oh.

  13. #13 Steve De Luca
    January 24, 2006

    1. the back archway went from rounded to horizontal and back.
    2. the archway
    3. the layout of the room; walls, tables, chairs, etc.
    4. male
    5. 26

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