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This study investigates the phenomenon known as change blindness, or the inability of an observer to detect changes in stimuli, such as variations in facial indications of emotion. Previous studies have shown that gradual changes of facial emotion produce substantive levels of change blindness when observers are instructed to report the changes verbally (David et al., 2006). However, measures of ocular gaze (i.e., visual scan paths, fixation times, and pupil dilations) assessed by eye-tracking equipment, reveal that more attention is focused on features of a face that are thought to be more indicative of a change in emotion (e.g., eyes) than on static non-facial stimuli (Davies & Hoffman, 2003). It has also been noted that observers express high levels of confidence in their ability and accuracy in detecting a change in a stimulus if it were to take place even though they consistently fail to detect changes (Blackmore et al., 1995). The proposed research will utilize videos showing changes in facial emotion and questionnaires to gauge social awareness (cognizance of what is needed by others in a social situation) and empathy (sensitivity to the emotion of others). Based partly on extant results, there are three hypotheses. First, gradual changes in the facial emotion of an actor in a video will attract more gaze and fixation time, as measured by eye-tracking equipment, and be detected more frequently than gradual changes in a neutral stimulus (e.g., changing the color of a shirt). Second, changes in facial emotion will be detected more often by observers who have greater social awareness and empathy. Third, observers who are unable to detect changes in facial emotions will express, a priori, more overconfidence in their ability to do so compared to observers who are able to detect changes in facial emotions.

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Project Designation

Independent Research

Primary Advisor

Mark R. Brown

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium poster

The Impact of Social Awareness, Empathy, and Confidence on Blindness to Change in Facial Emotions