Blinded by magic: Electrophysiological correlates of change blindness

  • Monique Yuan WISEST student researcher, University of Alberta
  • Sarah Sheldon Department of Psychology, University of Alberta
  • Kyle Mathewson Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta
Keywords: change blindness, EEG, Gabor patch, magic


Magicians can often hide their method for a trick in plain sight by effecting a phenomenon known as change blindness. The purpose of this study was to find the reason for why an individual is induced with change blindness. Alpha oscillations are known to impair detection of visual stimuli, but it is unclear if this is due to increased guess rate or decreased fidelity of the mental representation. Here we estimated fidelity and guess rate as a function of pre-stimulus alpha oscillations using a change blindness task. In this study, each trial began with an array of 6 Gabor patches with a fixated dot that subjects were instructed to keep their eyes on. As the array traveled to the center of the screen, it either changed direction vertically at 90 degrees or continued horizontally. When the array switched direction, one of the Gabor patches rotated 30 degrees simultaneously. Subjects were then asked to identify which patch rotated. EEG (electroencephalography) data was simultaneously recorded with eye-tracking as subjects performed the task. Twenty-eight participants performed this task, which included six blocks of forty-eight trials. There were two different types of trials: flexion, in which the array changed direction, and control, in which the array did not change direction. Reaction time tended to be slower in flexion trials, and we found that the change in direction affected the subject’s ability to see the Gabor patch rotation. Based on the event-related potential results, which are an average of EEG signals aligned to the start of a trial, we could see that the P300 differed between correct flexion, incorrect flexion, and control trials. The P300 can be interpreted as a marker of consciousness. This difference demonstrates that the subject’s attention is automatically drawn to a larger change in stimuli.