What does this mean?

What does this mean? I think it means people don’t notice insignificant details and it doesn’t mean much more than that.

(h/t sciblogs)

10 thoughts on “What does this mean?”

  1. I think we’re also trained to ignore these kinds of details because we’re used to film and TV. Scenes jump between viewpoints, locations, and even time frames, and we’re acclimated to it. TV and film would be very difficult to follow if we weren’t. Hairstyles, costumes, and props change between takes, even inside the same scene. Shots are flipped on the vertical axis. Lighting changes. Stuff changes off-frame all the time, and our brains “fill in” continuity.

    This trick would be much harder (not impossible) to pull off in person, or in a video game where the player has control over the point of view.

  2. I think causality works the other way. TV producers are exploiting a feature of our brain.

    Studies of babies and chimps show the same effect.

  3. If you experience jump cuts in the real world, you might want to consult a neurologist.

    Re: babies and chimps – are you talking about the studies where babies and animals can accurately count groups of up to around 7 objects, and react when the number is covertly changed?

    I’m wondering how you experiment to determine when a subject *doesn’t* notice something – do you watch them on an EEG and try to figure out a perception threshold?

  4. I’m reading a great book called “stumbling on happiness” that talks about a lot of these experiments. You can measure surprise by looking at physiological responses (like raised eyebrows, blood pressure changes, dilating pupils, etc).

    I agree jump cuts aren’t in the real world, but I think that I think that TV producers can get away with them because of the way our brains work… I’d be more certain of my beliefs if I knew what a jump cut was. :-)

  5. @ Scott. I remember from my film history classes back at DVC that the jump cuts we find so common and easy to follow today, were impossible to pull off in the very early days of film making. The reason was simply that motion picture was such a new art that people’s brains hadn’t been trained to follow such jumps. Today when you watch TV and you see a guy roll out of bed, then suddenly walk out of the house, we understand that he went through the full process of getting ready. In the 1920s and 30s, you couldn’t pull this off because it would have been a “what da fuck??” moment for the audience.

  6. @Gavin: Exactly.

    @Will: think of a typical conversation scene in a TV show. The camera “jumps” back and forth between closeups of whoever is talking. Those are jump cuts. Gavin’s example is good as well. If the action is similar enough between two cuts, we assume continuity in a single scene. If the action and setting are different, we assume that a little time has passed. The composition, timing, and transitions between clips form a meta language describing the context of each shot.

    “Ah, but wait,” you say: if these techniques were invented *after* film was introduced, how can audiences have learned these meanings if they weren’t already genetically primed to follow them? Surely we were meant to understand that a slow fade between two shots indicates an extended passage of time.

    I’d counter that argument by proposing that it’s similar to the difference between knowing a language and having the ability to know language. Language capacity is definitely genetic; one might argue that it’s a major portion of being human. Capacity to understand language is different from being able to appreciate the nuances of iambic pentameter, though.

    Back to the subject: this trick would be much harder to pull off in person. Street and stage magicians can do tricks like this because they have mastered misdirection and sleight of hand. It’s easier with a camera because you can explicitly guide eyeballs by moving the camera and carefully framing the target of your misdirection. If you don’t want someone to notice something, do it off-frame. Viewers will subconsciously fill in the continuity: “It’s there, so it must have been there.” I’m actually curious about how much they could get away with. I doubt I would have noticed if the guy slipped on a beanie between close-ups. A flaming Eye of Sauron in the background would be pushing it.

    Does this video clip exploit an intrinsic biological feature of human brains, or does it exploit features of the culture around its delivery medium? We can agree that the trick works by insinuating continuity in non-visible elements when continuity is actually broken. I’ll even concede that illusionists predate film (by a lot), and their techniques seem to work well before audiences of any culture.

    My conclusion: All filmmakers are magicians.

  7. It doesn’t sound like jump cuts, as you describe them, are exploiting that aspect of the brain the video is demonstrating.

    “We can agree that the trick works by insinuating continuity in non-visible elements when continuity is actually broken”

    I think you missed an important qualifier… the trick works by insinuating continuity on *unimportant* non-visible elements. If the cards turned into petunias, we’d all have noticed.

    This is why I think these sorts of results from psychology are mostly uninteresting. So what if people ignore unimportant elements? I think this is a feature not a bug.

  8. “This is why I think these sorts of results from psychology are mostly uninteresting. So what if people ignore unimportant elements? I think this is a feature not a bug.”

    I don’t think anyone here disagrees with you on that. Nevertheless I think it’s still fun for people when they are shown what changes they missed.

  9. So, what determines importance? Is it hard coded into our genes (like hawk shapes in a rabbit’s brain), or is that weighting learned (swarthy men in puffy ski jackets on a Tel Aviv bus)? Or both?

    I’ll admit – I don’t usually catch discontinuity when I’m watching TV. If a character is suddenly holding a coffee mug between clips, I don’t assume it was a mistake. It’s actually kind of jarring when you do notice things like that.

    Cards -> petunias, yeah, we’d notice. A vase of petunias materializing on the corner of the table while it’s off-frame? Maybe not.

  10. Now that’s an experimental result I’d like to see… What sorts of changes are “important” and which are unimportant measured by which changes are noticed or not. Assuming you could quantify the line between these two, how does that line shift between ages, sexes, cultures, etc…

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