New research demonstrates that humans can subconsciously detect and assimilate changes in visual stimuli without knowing where that information came from, or what exactly changed. The study suggests that this phenomenon of "knowing without knowing" can often be mistaken for psychic ability or supernatural intuition.
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A team of researchers at the University of Melbourne led by Piers Howe presented test subjects with pairs of color photographs of the same person's face. In some cases the two photographs were identical.
In others there were minor but significant differences (for example in one photo the person might be wearing glasses, or have a different hairstyle). Each photograph was seen for one and a half seconds, with a one-second break between the images. The subjects were then asked to determine whether or not a change had occurred-and if it had, to correctly identify the change from a list of possible options.
The researchers conclude, "In this study we have provided direct behavioural evidence that observers can regularly detect when a change has occurred without necessarily being able to identify what has changed.... We found that this ability to detect unidentified changes is not unique to images containing faces." Though the general phenomena (known as change blindness) has been known for decades, according to Dr. Howe this is the first scientific study to demonstrate that that people can reliably sense changes that they cannot visually identify.