Inattentional Blindness: What It Is And How It May Affect You

Medically reviewed by Lauren Fawley , LPC
Updated September 11, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Inattentional blindness refers to the phenomenon of failing to consciously perceive a critical object within your visual field, often because your attentional resources are focused on a primary task or you're not prepared for the unexpected stimulus. Activities like distracted driving and multitasking are prone to inattentional blindness occurrences. While this is a common experience, online therapy may help if inattentional blindness negatively impacts your daily life.

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Inattentional Blindness Defined

Inattentional blindness is a psychological phenomenon, extensively studied in the journal of experimental psychology, where an individual may not consciously perceive an unexpected object or stimulus in plain sight, despite it being fully visible within their visual field. This often occurs because the mind isn't prepared to process the unexpected event.

Understanding that inattentional blindness is not a physical eye defect but a common psychological occurrence may provide some reassurance. In fact, almost everyone experiences this phenomenon as our minds subconsciously prioritize certain types of information over others, given the limitations of our working memory capacity.

Recognizing inattentional blindness in your own experiences can help you determine if it impacts your daily functioning.

Inattentional Blindness In Depth

Let's delve into the concept of inattentional blindness and its implications. Often referred to as perceptual blindness, inattentional blindness occurs when one fails to consciously perceive salient and distinctive objects within their visual field.

It's a common misconception that if our eyes are open, we're always perceiving everything around us. Inattentional blindness experiments, such as the famous gorilla basketball study in psychological science, have demonstrated that our attention, perception, and focus greatly influence what we notice. In that study, participants were so focused on counting basketball passes that half of them missed unexpected objects or an unexpected event - a person in a gorilla suit appearing in the video.

Our eyes do not function like video cameras, recording every detail. In fact, without paying attention to an object when it appears, we may experience inattentional amnesia, where the object remains unremembered despite our visual memory.


Inattentional blindness can pose significant challenges in certain situations, such as driving. For instance, if you're not anticipating a tire on the road, you might not notice it until it's too late, even if you're paying attention to your surroundings.

Examples And Consequences

Distracted driving exemplifies inattentional blindness and can lead to severe consequences, especially among younger adults who are more prone to multitasking while driving. Failures of awareness arise when we struggle to focus on all available stimuli but are oblivious to what we're not perceiving. Activities like talking on a cell phone while driving heighten the risk of accidents, as we might overlook a person, object, or another vehicle in our path due to insufficient attentional capture.

Despite believing you can simultaneously watch the road and engage in a phone call or text message, studies of inattentional blindness have consistently shown that focusing on another task often leads to missing critical visual cues, such as a car's brake lights. This lack of attention can result in delayed braking, even when looking directly at the vehicle ahead. Our inherent limitations in working memory make it challenging to process multiple stimuli concurrently, causing us to look without genuinely seeing.

In The Workplace And At Home

Inattentional blindness occurs in various aspects of our everyday life. For instance, employers often encourage multitasking to achieve work objectives. However, inattentional blindness research indicates that multitasking can lead to reduced efficiency and quality of work, as we can only attend to a limited number of variables simultaneously.

Another manifestation of inattentional blindness is when we fail to notice someone entering a room or speaking to us because we're absorbed in entertainment, such as watching TV, playing video games, or reading a book. This phenomenon, which differentiates inattentional blindness from intentional ignorance, can lead to missed information or cues.

Similarly, parents might feel their children are deliberately ignoring them, but it's often just the child engrossed in another stimulus, experiencing sustained inattentional blindness.

Change Blindness

Change blindness is similar to inattentional blindness in that it can also be considered a psychological phenomenon by which we fail to perceive certain visual stimuli. That being said, there are some minor differences between the two phenomena. Inattentional blindness is generally when we fail to see an object or another stimulus in our field of vision. Change blindness, however, is typically when we fail to notice a change to an object that we are already aware of.

This failure to notice change could mean that you don't perceive the object as moving or changing color, as just a couple of examples. You might think that you would notice a dramatic shift in what you are seeing, but again, research indicates that we tend not to notice unexpected changes in our visual perception.

Examples Of Change Blindness

Here are a couple of hypothetical examples of how change blindness works. If, for example, you are reading a website and focusing on the content of the words, you might not notice if the color of the background changes while you're reading. That could be because even though you are looking at the page, your focus is not on the color of the background.

Another example could be if you are talking to someone, and while you aren't looking, they change into a different jacket from the one they were wearing when you began talking to them. Many people would not notice the difference, especially if they didn’t know the person they were talking to and had never seen either of their jackets before.

These lapses in attention can lead to slip-ups like mistaking another server at a restaurant for the one who was serving your table or failing to catch a problem in the task you're performing at work.

Getty/MoMo Productions
Want To Improve Your Inattentional Blindness?

When it comes to both change blindness and inattentional blindness, certain characteristics can increase a particular person's perception. We may be more likely to notice familiar stimuli or changes that occur in an area where we specialize. For instance, someone who works as an editor for a living would probably be more likely to catch unexpected errors in a story or article than the average reader who is not looking for spelling or grammar errors.

Inattentional Blindness In Daily Life

All of us will likely experience inattentional blindness at some point. Our minds may not always be able to process every bit of stimuli we are exposed to. This may be one of the reasons that living and working in communities can be so helpful for people. We may somewhat depend on other humans to notice the things that we do not. The chances are that while you may be focused on one thing, your partner or coworker may be focused on something else entirely. Of course, we most likely cannot depend on someone else to focus on all the important information we need to absorb in a day.

Unchecked inattentional blindness can lead to various problems. Consider, for a moment, a nurse who may be so focused on the amount of medicine to give they fail to notice a particular part of the directions for safely administering the drug. This could seriously harm a patient.

Or let's say you keep your lunch in a particular place in the work refrigerator every day, but one day, a coworker moves it to make room for their lunch, and you end up grabbing the wrong container, despite the packaging looking different from yours. This may be a less serious error, but it can illustrate how our expectations can affect what we notice.

If you find yourself often making errors at work that you feel you should have caught the first time around, or if you frequently make social gaffes because you're unobservant about cues from the people you are talking to, then inattentional blindness or change blindness may be at play.

Online Therapy May Improve Inattentional Blindness

Inattentional blindness can be related to cognitive abilities, and in many cases, cognitive skills can be learned, practiced, and trained. That means that if you experience frequent inattentional blindness that hinders your daily tasks or relationships, then you may be able to improve your perception and focusing skills.  can be a good start to learn focusing strategies and mitigate the social consequences of frequent inattentional blindness.

If you’ve noticed that inattentional blindness is affecting your daily life, you might be experiencing stress or anxiety about the issue. According to this study, online therapy can be effective in many situations, but can be particularly helpful in alleviating symptoms of stress and anxiety. 


When you don't see something, even though it's right in front of you, you might be experiencing inattentional blindness. This often happens when you're not expecting to see the specific stimulus in front of you or when you're focused on something else, such as during inattentional blindness tasks or critical trial situations. Two common scenarios where inattentional blindness occurs are multitasking and distracted driving. Although most people experience this phenomenon, and it may be considered normal, you may wish to consider online therapy if inattentional blindness is causing you stress or affecting your daily life significantly, particularly in cases resembling inattentional agnosia or visual neglect.

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