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Research Article

Explicit behavioral detection of visual changes develops without their implicit neurophysiological detectability


Change blindness is a failure of reporting major changes across consecutive images if separated, e.g., by a brief blank interval. Successful change detection across interrupts requires focal attention to the changes. However, findings of implicit detection of visual changes during change blindness have raised the question of whether the implicit mode is necessary for development of the explicit mode. To this end, we recorded the visual mismatch negativity (vMMN) of the event-related potentials (ERPs) of the brain, an index of implicit pre-attentive visual change detection, in adult humans performing an oddball-variant of change blindness flicker task. Images of 500 ms in duration were presented repeatedly in continuous sequences, alternating with a blank interval (either 100 ms or 500 ms in duration throughout a stimulus sequence). Occasionally (P = 0.2), a change (referring to color changes, omissions, or additions of objects or their parts in the image) was present. The participants attempted to explicitly (via voluntary button press) detect the occasional change. With both interval durations, it took 10–15 change presentations in average for the participants to eventually detect the changes explicitly in a sequence, the 500 ms interval only requiring a slightly longer exposure to the series than the 100 ms one. Nevertheless, prior to this point of explicit detectability, the implicit detection of the changes vMMN could only be observed with the 100 ms intervals. These findings of explicit change detection developing with and without implicit change detection may suggest that the two modes of change detection recruit independent neural mechanisms.