Neural correlates of change detection and change blindness in a working memory task

Cereb Cortex. 2004 May;14(5):511-20. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhh013. Epub 2004 Mar 28.


Detecting changes in an ever-changing environment is highly advantageous, and this ability may be critical for survival. In the present study, we investigated the neural substrates of change detection in the context of a visual working memory task. Subjects maintained a sample visual stimulus in short-term memory for 6 s, and were asked to indicate whether a subsequent, test stimulus matched or did not match the original sample. To study change detection largely uncontaminated by attentional state, we compared correct change and correct no-change trials at test. Our results revealed that correctly detecting a change was associated with activation of a network comprising parietal and frontal brain regions, as well as activation of the pulvinar, cerebellum, and inferior temporal gyrus. Moreover, incorrectly reporting a change when none occurred led to a very similar pattern of activations. Finally, few regions were differentially activated by trials in which a change occurred but subjects failed to detect it (change blindness). Thus, brain activation was correlated with a subject's report of a change, instead of correlated with the physical change per se. We propose that frontal and parietal regions, possibly assisted by the cerebellum and the pulvinar, might be involved in controlling the deployment of attention to the location of a change, thereby allowing further processing of the visual stimulus. Visual processing areas, such as the inferior temporal gyrus, may be the recipients of top-down feedback from fronto-parietal regions that control the reactive deployment of attention, and thus exhibit increased activation when a change is reported (irrespective of whether it occurred or not). Whereas reporting that a change occurred, be it correctly or incorrectly, was associated with strong activation in fronto-parietal sites, change blindness appears to involve very limited territories.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Statistics as Topic