The Effects of Presentation Style on Memory and Change-Blindness Sensitivity

Rachael A. Divine
Mariam V. Balasanyan
Jennifer M. Vuong
Justin C. Latham
Robert J. Youmans*
California State University, Northridge


Emotional regulation has become an important variable in understanding the effect emotions may have on attention and learning. In this study, 58 undergraduate students at California State University, Northridge were randomly assigned to watch one of two versions of an educational video. The information presented was identical in both versions of the educational video, but the presenter was asked to be more aggressive in one version of the presentation, and more neutral in the other. The study measured how well participants learned from each version of the video, and also how likely they were to notice surprising changes in background objects that were carefully created by the experimenters via video editing. Results indicated that the aggressive presentation had a negative effect on participants’ ability to detect changes, but no effect on their memory for the semantic content of the video.

Key Words: change blindness, attention, emotional regulation, learning, presentation style


Emotional regulation has become an important variable in understanding the effect emotions may have on attention and learning. Emotional regulation refers to the conscious or unconscious processes through which individuals alter, hide, or express their emotions (Gross, 1998). In educational settings, many teachers believe that they can create more effective learning environments through the use of emotional regulation strategies (Sutton, 2004). For example, research showed that instructors with more positive presentation styles help facilitate learning (Comstock, Rowell, & Bowers, 1995), whereas expressions of anger during teaching were often viewed as counterproductive and inhibitory to teacher-student relationships and a decrement to learning (Myers, 2002; Rocca & McCroskey, 1999; Sutton, 2004). Employees whose managers display argumentativeness, a tendency to present controversial issues during communication and advocate positions based on those issues (Infante & Rancer, 1982), reported higher job satisfaction when their superiors were perceived to be high in argumentativeness (Infante & Gorden, 1985). Similarly, instructors who were perceived to have an argumentative presentation style might increase their students’ motivation to learn (Myers, 2002).

Although emotional regulation and other faucets of presenters’ style can alter the effectiveness of their presentation, less clear is why different types of presentations are more or less effective and how educators might best match specific presentation styles to convey particular types of information. For example, recent research has identified an inability of audiences to detect significant changes that occur in the background of presentations called change blindness (Simons & Levin, 1997). Change blindness is an important phenomenon to be aware of because it may affect a variety of fields that rely on noticing important changes including law enforcement, the military, or a variety of other tasks that require vigilant behavior (Durlach, Kring, & Bowens, 2008). The ability to detect changes is also a crucial skill in motion picture editing where not only is it important to notice environmental changes but also person and object displacement (Angelone, Levin, & Simons, 2003).

In order to better enhance awareness of change it may be important to understand what factors can cause a person to fail to notice changes. Previous research on change blindness suggested that the ability to detect change could be increased when a person was primed to pay attention (Davies & Hine, 2007) and decreased through priming to attend to monitoring tasks (Simons & Chabris, 1999). Other factors such as likeness of age (Simons & Levin, 2004), perceived aggressiveness or argumentation (Infante & Gorden, 1985; Myers, 2002), type of change (Durlach, Kring, & Bowens, 2008), and emotional regulation (Sutton, 2004) might contribute to learning, performance, and the ability to detect change. Previous research showed that the ability to detect significant changes in the environment could be impaired when attention was directed to a competing task (Mack & Rock, 1998; Simons & Chabris, 1999), and central to this study, that emotionally motivating stimuli captured attention more than other non-motivating stimuli (West, Anderson, & Pratt, 2009).

To better understand limitations in attention, perception, and learning it is important to look at factors that may decrease the likelihood of perceiving stimuli. In attentional blindness studies by Simons and Chabris (1999) found that only 54 percent of participants primed to attend to a simple monitoring task were able to detect a highly unexpected event, a gorilla that walked through participants’ field of vision. Likewise, change blindness research suggested that the likelihood of detecting the appearance of an object was superior to detecting the disappearance of an object, and that change detection became more likely when only one object was changing at a time (Durlach, Kring, & Bowens, 2008). However, it is important to note that rates of detection on change blindness tasks are not constant and can be improved. For example, a study conducted by Simons and Levin (1997) showed that participants who were the same age (approximately 20-30 years old) as the experimenters were more likely to notice that the experimenter was switched during the course of the study, rather than participants older than the experimenter (approximately 35-65 years old). Furthermore, a study by Davies and Hine (2007) suggested that participants who were primed to pay careful attention to a change blindness video were more likely to detect changes than participants primed with statements related to insignificant material in the video. These studies suggested that presentation style might affect rates of change detection.

In this study, we investigated the effects of presentation style on memory and the ability to detect changes. We hypothesized that participants who watched a verbally aggressive presenter would notice fewer background changes and learn less of the instructional material because of the focus on the aggressive presentation style itself, rather than the information the presenter was trying to convey. The goal of the study was to better understand the relationship between presentation style, attention to background information as measured via change blindness, and attention to a primary source such as a lecture as measured by participant learning. 



Participants were 58 adults who were undergraduate psychology students (male = 28, female =30) at California State University, Northridge. Participants volunteered for the experiment, and received course credit for participating.


Video Script.
Videos. Two versions of a three-minute video clip were filmed for this experiment. The instructional topic was “paying attention” (see Appendix 1). Both versions were produced using the same script, actor, and sequence of events. The actor read the script in an aggressive style in version one, and a neutral style in version two (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Still shots of the educational video demonstrating aggressive or neutral presentational styles.

Aggressive Presentation                                              Neutral Presentation
IMG_0594.JPG                       Passive, Iphone shot
Aggressive communication styles are defined as irritability expressed through intense eye contact and high vocal variety (Rocca & McCroskey, 1999). Additionally, verbal aggressiveness often involves the use of insults to make an individual feel insecure about themselves or their beliefs (Infante, Wall, Leap, & Danielson, 1984). The aggressive presentation style included in this study utilized the exposure of closed fists, high vocal range, and scowling facial expressions that were delivered with potentially insulting intent. The neutral presentation, in contrast, was delivered with a monotone voice, relaxed posture, small hand gestures, and lack of facial expression.

Both videos contained three central changes (changes that occurred on the clothing or objects used by the presenter) and four background changes to objects in the presenter’s environment. Central changes consisted of changing the color of the instructor’s shirt, adding a wristwatch, and changing the instructor’s glasses. Background changes included changing the color of the writing on a visual aide, adding a clock on the wall, the substitution of a different stapler, and changing the subject of a framed picture (see Figure 2). All changes were facilitated via video editing as the camera was paused and restarted.     

Figure 2. An example of one of the background objects that was changed between camera shots.
Framed Picture 1 (Before Change)       Framed Picture 2 (After Change)

Questionnaires. Two multiple-choice recognition questionnaires were given to participants. Questionnaire one contained seven multiple-choice questions about the instructional information presented in the video (see Appendix 2). Questionnaire two contained a list of 14 changes that may have occurred in the video and a seven-point bipolar manipulation scale to measure perceived aggressiveness (see Appendix 3). The perceived emotional modality of the instructor scale, ranged from passive (-3) to aggressive (+3).

Design and Procedure

A between-participants factorial design was used. Fifty-eight participants were randomly assigned to seven groups containing the neutral or aggressive presentation style. Participants from group one, three, and five were shown the neutral presentation video and participants from group two, four, six, and seven were shown the aggressive presentation video. The experimenters informed participants that they would be watching a brief three-minute video and would be asked to fill out two questionnaires following the video. Videos were all shown on the same overhead projector. Following the video, participants filled out questionnaire one containing seven multiple-choice recognition questions. Questions were based on instructional information contained in the video. After completion of questionnaire one, participants completed questionnaire two containing a list of 14 potential changes that may have occurred in the video. Participants placed a check mark in the appropriate box (yes or no) next to each item indicating if they believed that any change had occurred to that object. Additionally, questionnaire two contained a seven-point question asking the participant to rate the presenter’s presentational style from passive (-3) to aggressive (+3).


We hypothesized that participants in the aggressive presentation condition would recognize fewer changes from the video than participants in the neutral presentation condition. Additionally, we predicted that participants in the neutral presentation condition would learn more from the educational video than participants in the aggressive presentation condition. A MANOVA was used to compare the number of changes detected and information recognized for participants in the aggressive presentation group (n = 28; m1 (Recall) = 5.29; m2 (Changes) = 4.36; sd1 (Recall) = .94; sd2 (Changes) = 1.73) and those in the neutral presentation group (n = 30; m1 = 5.4; m2 = 5.47; sd1 = 1.00; sd2 = 1.76).

Data from the conditions met the threshold of significance using a Wilks’ Lambda test (Sig. = .036), so a between-participants test was performed. Results indicated there was a reliable difference between the number of changes noticed in the neutral and aggressive presentation conditions. Participants who watched the video containing the aggressive presentation style noticed fewer changes than participants who watched the neutral presentation video F(1) = 5.88, p < .05. There was no reliable difference in recognition of instructional information within the neutral and aggressive presentation groups F(1) = .20, ns.

Figure 1. Differences of Mean Scores: Changes Noticed and Recognition of Information                    IMAGE 

Additionally, there was an effect on perceived aggressiveness of the instructor by participants in the emotional conditions F(1) = 5.41; p < .05. A seven-point bipolar manipulation scale was used (see Appendix 3) to measure perceived aggressiveness. The manipulation scale ranged from a score of negative three (passive) to positive three (aggressive) and used the mid-point (zero) to represent a “neutral” instructional modality. There was a reliable difference between participants in the aggressive presentation condition (n = 28; m = .82; sd = 1.85) and participants in the neutral presentation condition (n = 30; m = -.17; sd = 1.36). Emotional presentation appears to have an effect on noticing changes, but not on recognition of instructional information.


In our experiment, we tested the effects of neutral and aggressive presentation styles on change blindness and recognition. Participants were randomly assigned to watch either an aggressive or neutrally presented three-minute educational video with seven subtle changes to the dress of the experimenter or background objects. Our first hypothesis, that participants who watched the neutral presentation would detect more changes than those who watched the aggressive presentation, was supported. One possible explanation for our findings may be related to the effects of verbal aggressiveness on participants’ attention to the environment. Closely attending to the aggressive presenter, and not the background objects, may have had an effect on the ability to perceive changes.

Our second hypothesis, that participants in the neutral presentation condition would recognize more instructional information than participants in the aggressive presentation condition, was not supported. Although Sutton (2004) found that regulation of negative emotions such as anger and frustration increased effectiveness of teachers, we found no reliable difference in the amount of instructional information recognized by participants in the aggressive and neutral presentation conditions. One possible interpretation of our findings may be attributed to the number of questions used to measure recognition of instructional information. The recognition questionnaire contained seven questions about attention as presented in the video. Results suggest that there was a ceiling effect for recognition in both conditions as most participants answered five-to-six of the seven questions correctly. We believe that we may have found more variance among correct responses between conditions by increasing the number of recognition questions.

Previous research suggested that instructors perceived to be less aggressive and more argumentative have students that do well in school because of higher levels of motivation (Myers, 2002). However, this study provided some evidence of an additional mechanism that may be responsible for increased student classroom achievement when presentation styles are optimal. Specifically, our study showed that when the presenter in the video was less aggressive, student participants learned just as much as when the presenter was more aggressive, while at the same time noticing more of the subtle changes that we had deliberately made to objects in the video. Put differently, a relaxed presentation style by the instructor featured in the video allowed students to learn just as much as an when the instructor was aggressive but also facilitated attention to more than just the speaker as noted by the observant behavior of the students to unexpected or surprising events.

To the extent that educators utilize supporting materials such as PowerPoint presentations or other learning aids, it may be that students are better able to incorporate the information that is concurrently presented in such instructional aides when the presentation style of the educator is calm. Further, this study has implications in a variety of fields such as the military, police, or security that rely on change detection to protect others. Findings in this study suggest that the use of more neutral presentation styles by superiors and instructors may increase the likelihood of detecting changes in unexpected stimuli and facilitate more effective communication between individuals in positions of authority and students or employees to increase job performance and safety.


Angelone, B. L., Levin, D. T., & Simons, D. J. (2003). The relationship between change detection and recognition of centrally attended objects in motion pictures. Perception, 32, 947-962. doi:10.1068/p5079

Comstock, J., Rowell, E., Bowers, J. W. (1995). Food for thought: Teacher immediacy, student learning and curvilinearity. Communication Education, 44, 251-266. doi: 10.1080/03634529509379015

Davies, G., & Hine S. (2007). Change blindness in eyewitness testimony. The Journal of Psychology, 4, 423-434. doi: 10.3200/JRLP.141.4.423-434

Durlach, P. J., Kring, J. P., & Bowens, L. D. (2008). Detection of icon appearance and disappearance on a digital situation awareness display. MILITARY PSYCHOLOGY, 20, 81-94. doi: 10.1080/08995600701869502

Gross, J. J. (1998). Antecedent-and response-focused emotion regulation: divergent consequences for experience, expression, and physiology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 224-237. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2009.10.015

Infante, D. A., Heinen Wall, C., Leap, C. J., & Danielson, K. (1984). Verbal aggression as a function of the receiver’s argumentativeness. Communication Research Reports, 1, 33-37.

Infante, D. A., & Gorden, W. I. (1985). Superiors’ argumentativeness and verbal aggressiveness as predictors of subordinates’ satisfaction. Human Communication Research, 12, 117-125. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.1985.tb00069.x

Infante, D. A., & Rancer A. S. (1982). A conceptualization and measure of argumentativeness. Journal of Personality Assessment, 46, 72-80. doi: 10.1207/s15327752jpa4601_13

Mack, A., & Rock, I. (1998). Inattentional blindness: Perception without attention. Visual Attention, 8, 55-76. New York: Oxford

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Rocca, K. A., & McCroskey, J. C. (1999). The interrelationship of student ratings of instructors’ immediacy, verbal aggressiveness, homophily, and interpersonal attraction. Communication Education, 48, 308-316. doi: 10.1080/03634529909379181

Simons, D. J., & Chabris, C. F. (1999). Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception, 28, 1059-1074. doi: 10.1068/p2952

Simons, D. J., & Levin, D. T. (1997). Change blindness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 1, 261-267. doi: 10.1016/S1364-6613(97)01080-2

Simons, D. J., & Levin, D. T. (2004). Failure to detect changes to people during a real-world interaction. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 5, 644-649.

Sutton, R. E. (2004). Emotional regulation goals and strategies of teachers. Social Psychology of Education, 7, 379-398. doi:10.1007/s11218-004-4229-y

West, G. L., Anderson, A. A. K., & Pratt, J. (2009). Motivationally significant stimuli show visual prior entry: Evidence for attentional capture. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 35, 1032-1042. doi: 10.1037/a0014493

Appendix 1. Video Script for Aggressive and Neutral Presentation Modalities

Today we will be talking about what it means to pay attention. Learning to pay better attention is an important skill that can be applied to all areas of your life. Longman’s dictionary (Instructor pulls out dictionary 1) defines attention as the state of carefully listening to, watching, or thinking about something that is happening or what someone is saying or doing (Put dictionary back). It is a selective narrowing of focus or consciousness. At any given moment, we experience multiple forms of sensory input at the same time. Our whole environment is an accumulation visual, auditory, olfactory, or other forms of sensory input.

Psychologist William James, author of The Principles of Psychology classified attention into two categories, passive and active attention. Passive attention is what stands out in our every day environments. Things like loud noises, bright lights and strong odors are obvious changes that we realize with concentration or not. We realized these thing involuntarily because they are obscure in a given environment making them part of passive attention. Active attention requires more attention to retain information. It is voluntary because it is guided by our own effort and interest. Remember how the dictionary defines attention: (Instructor pulls out dictionary 2) carefully watching, thinking or doing.

Now lets try a little exercise to test your passive vs. active attention. lose your eyes and try and remember things about the room. Go ahead, close your eyes (Cut for 10 seconds: Change glasses and marker colors). You probably realize that your attention was fixated on the more obvious things about the room or something that caught your interest, thus being your active attention span. So in other words, we are able to filter what we choose to pay attention to or fail to pay attention to. In doing so, we might fail to notice changes that may occur in our surroundings.

The single most important part of the brain that plays a part on attention and recall is the hippocampus and the biggest problem that can affect it is age-related. Lucky for you, there are many things we can do to improve our active memory and keep it sharp. Many of these things may seem obvious. One of them being distractions that occur quite frequently every day. Even things such as the lights in this classroom can be distractions. (Camera pan up to lights, change shirt, change color of writing on visual aid). Out of place objects such as a guitar in the corner here will stand out because they are obscure and can also be distractions. (Camera pan over to guitar, add watch, change picture in picture frame, change stapler). Using the method of selectivity, or narrowing your focus on important objects, is another way of improving your attention. Other things such as eating right, having healthy sleep patterns, and even managing your stress will help you in improving your attention.

Lets try one more exercise. Something I like to do is clustering to remember the subject I am giving my attention to (Picks up framed picture and places on desk). What are some things we notice about the picture? (Instructor picks up dry erase board and points to it while talking) He is wide-eyed, smiling, is wearing a white hoodie, and is standing in front of a fence. These are all things you can do to help you with improving your attention and recall of information. Learning to pay better attention is an important and beneficial skill for us all; one that can enhance our lives and help us with detecting danger.

Appendix 2. Multiple-Choice Questionnaire to Test Recognition of Instructional Information

Based on the information from the video, please circle the correct answer for each question

1. What was the instructor in the video?
            A. Male
            B. Female

2. The instructor was standing in the video?
            A. True
            B. False

3. What dictionary did the instructor use to quote attention?
            A. American Heritage
            B. Oxford
            C. Longman’s
            D. Cambridge

4. Who is that name of the psychologist who wrote the book the principles of psychology?           
            A. George Humphry
            B. William James
            C. John B. Watson
            D. Sigmund Freud

5. What are the two categories of attention referred to in the video?
            A. Positive and Active
            B. Strong and Active
            C. Neutral and Active
            D. Passive and Active

6. What is the most important part of the brain that plays a part on attention and recall?
            A. Motor Cortex
            B. Cerebellum
            C. Hippocampus
            D. Temporal Lobe

7. What is active attention?
            A. A voluntary effort guided by our own interest
            B. An involuntary effort guided by out own interest
            C. Attention caused by an increased growth of myelin
            D. None of the above


Appendix 3. Checklist of Possible Changes
Please check the box (Yes or No) to indicate if any of the following changes occurred in the video.

Yes      No
_          _     Dictionary
_          _     Instructor
_          _     Framed Picture on Desk
_          _     Eyes Glasses              
_          _     Instructor’s desk
_          _     Computer
_          _     Wrist Watch
_          _     Coffee mug on desk
_          _     Stapler
_          _     Definition of attention on wall
_          _     Potted plant
_          _     Toy car on desk
_          _     Shirt
_          _     Maps
_          _     Clock
_          _     Mouse pad


Please circle the number to rate the instructor’s teaching style

<---------- -3 ---------- 2 --------- -1 ---------- 0 ---------- 1 --------- 2 --------- 3 ----------->
                  V                                                V                                             V                            
             Passive                                      Neutral                                Aggressive


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