When visual transients impair tactile change detection: a novel case of crossmodal change blindness?

Research paper by Alberto A Gallace, Malika M Auvray, Hong Z HZ Tan, Charles C Spence

Indexed on: 17 Feb '06Published on: 17 Feb '06Published in: Neuroscience Letters


The inability of people to detect changes between consecutively presented visual displays, when separated by a blank screen or distractor, is known as "change blindness". This phenomenon has recently been reported to occur within the auditory and tactile modalities as well. To date, however, only distractors presented within the same sensory modality as the change have been demonstrated to produce change blindness. In the present experiment, we studied whether tactile change blindness might also be elicited by the presentation of a visual mask. Participants made same versus different judgments regarding two successively presented displays composed of two to three vibrotactile stimuli. While change detection performance was near-perfect when the two displays were presented one directly after the other, participants failed to detect many of the changes between the tactile displays when they were separated by an empty temporal interval. Critically, performance deteriorated still further when the presentation of a local (i.e., a mudsplash) or global visual transient coincided with the onset of the second tactile pattern. Analysis of the results using signal detection theory revealed that this crossmodal effect reflected a genuine perceptual impairment.