When reading about “banner blindness” I’ve always thought about the ability of the user to learn that certain sections of the search engine result page do not contain information that are valuable for them. However, an article by Guo has pointed my attention to an article by Simons/Chabris in which they demonstrate how incapable humans are to notice changes which being focused onto something else.
“It is a well-known phenomenon that we do not notice anything happening in our surroundings while being absorbed in the inspection of something; focusing our attention on a certain object may happen to such an extent that we cannot perceive other objects placed in the peripheral parts of our visual field, although the light rays they emit arrive completely at the visual sphere of the cerebral cortex.”
Rezsö Bálint 1907 (translated in Husain and Stein 1988, page 91)
To cut a long story short: When you are being told to count how many time a group of people are exchanging a basket ball you are quite likely that you brain omits the fact that there is a guy dressed an gorilla (or a lady with an umbrella) waking through the group of people an bumping his chest (!). Examples on YouTube here and here.
Similar applies to non moving content. When being shown images and asked to focus onto certain aspects participants missed other, completely non related and unexpected objects appearing on the screen. However people noticed the unexpected objects if they were similar to them (e.g. name of the participant of the study), but even missed the display of their name if just one letter got changed.
So, what might that tell us for the likeliness of confusion and Keyword Advertising:
a: When focusing on the search results, a gorilla might (literally) run around the search results, without users noticing.
b: The more the appearance of ads and results are the same, the more likely it is that users actually notice them. (this might explain why users are still very reluctant about banner ads, irrespective their numerous advantages)
c: If ads contain the TM of a competitor, users are much more likely NOT to ignore the ad.
d: I start to wonder how much ads can influence the overall user experience if the perception of ads at all appears to be actually a very rare phenomenon.