Plants really do receive less attention than animals.
This was determined in a study of attention “blinks” by Benjamin Balas and Jennifer L. Momsen. Experiments confirming this physiological component of plant blindness can be reviewed in Attention “Blinks” Differently for Plants and Animals.
Using an established research protocol in the study of visual cognition, Balas and Momsen investigated the ability of individuals to detect plant and animal images presented to them in rapid succession. The protocol they used is a measurement of “attentional blink” which they describe as a “phenomenon in visual perception in which detecting the first of two targets in a sequence of rapidly presented images compromises the ability to detect the second target for a short time” (Balas & Momsen, 2014). They go on to explain that this compromise occurs because the first image captures the visual attention of the viewer. Because it takes time for a viewer to disengage from the first image (and free up visual attention), subsequent images appearing too close to the first one tend to go unnoticed (Balas & Momsen, 2014). That is, “attention blinks” (Balas & Momsen, 2014).
Balas & Momsen (2014) recruited 24 psychology students to take part in this study. Half were asked to detect plant images and half were asked to detect animal images. Students were placed in a darkened room and viewed image sequences on a MacBook laptop computer. At the end of each sequence, participants were asked to respond to questions about what they observed. Specific details about the research procedure and statistical analyses used by Balas & Momsen (2014) are described in their paper.
Data collected by the authors indicate:
- Attention is not captured by plants the same way it is captured by animals.
- Participants are more likely to miss plant images.
- Participants more often report seeing plant images when none were present in the image sequence.
- Participants’ attention to plants is delayed, suggesting “attentional resources are deployed differently for plant targets” (Balas & Momsen, 2014).
These results demonstrate a measurable difference in how humans perceive plants and animals and suggest that plant blindness may be a result of delayed attention, instead of reduced attention (Balas & Momsen, 2014).
So what does this all mean for educators?
Because plant blindness has a physiological base, Balas and Momsen (2014) offer these suggestions to educators:
- Explain to students that plant blindness exists.
- Incorporate engaging active learning opportunities about plants into your lessons.
- Integrate plants into life science lessons and stop treating botany as a separate subject.
- Add auditory and visual learning components to your lessons. Do not rely only on text and images.
The article by Benjamin Balas and Jennifer L. Momsen is available for free through an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License. Click on the link below to download a PDF copy of this article.
Balas, Benjamin and Jennifer L. Momsen. 2014. Attention “blinks” differently for plants and animals. CBE – Life Sciences Education. 13(3): 437-443. Retrieved from http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/3/437.full.pdf+html.