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.
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 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.
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.
What is an example of inattentional blindness?
One of the most well-known examples of inattentional blindness comes from an experiment known as the “invisible gorilla test.” Conducted by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris, this applied cognitive psychology experiment involved asking participants to watch a video of several people passing a basketball between them. Participants were asked to count various aspects of the video, including the total number of passes.
After the video concluded, researchers asked if anyone had noticed anything out of the ordinary. The majority of data indicates that nearly 50% of participants completed the task without seeing anything unusual, saying that the video appeared to only depict people passing a basketball. In actuality, the video shows a person dressed as a gorilla walking through the scene, turning the camera, thumping her chest, and then walking away. This experiment perfectly illustrates the power of inattentional blindness to obscure even the most noticeable objects.
What is the meaning of inattentional blindness?
The term inattentional blindness refers to a psychological phenomenon that can cause an individual to not notice a visual stimulus within their field of vision, typically because their attention is focused on something else. This object can be almost anything, from something as small as a pen to something as large as an airplane. The effects of inattentional blindness aren’t static and may increase if a person is undertaking secondary tasks. This multitasking can manifest in a variety of ways, such as answering the phone while working on a computer or thinking about what one is going to make for lunch while taking down notes.
Why does inattentional blindness happen?
Inattentional blindness likely occurs because of the limited capabilities of the human brain. While powerful, our brains can only process a certain amount of information at one time. In cases where our attention is focused on a particular object or objective, we may fail to notice anything that does not relate to the task at hand. While it's possible to multitask, more complicated tasks will often utilize the entirety of our focus and give us a form of tunnel vision in order to perform to the best of our abilities.
What is inattentional blindness and how does it trick the brain?
Inattentional blindness is a cognitive sciences term that refers to the brain’s ability to not notice the existence of a particular item within your field of vision. The reason your brain may be “tricked” by this phenomenon is due to its distribution of processing resources.
If you are focusing on a task and something unrelated comes into your field of view, your brain may disregard it in order to dedicate more focus toward your current job. As a result, you may fail to see an object because your brain doesn’t deem it important. In other cases, you may be preoccupied by multiple tasks and miss an object that is relevant, which can sometimes happen to individuals multitasking at work or distracted drivers.
What is inattentional blindness and how does it affect drivers?
Inattentional blindness describes a potential flaw in human perception where an object is within someone’s field of vision, but their mind does not recognize it as relevant. As a result, a person may completely miss something, even if that object may put them in danger. A good example can be seen with distracted drivers.
People engage in a number of secondary tasks while driving, including eating, talking on their phone, or using a GPS. Because their brain is forced to divide its attention between these tasks, a person may experience inattentional blindness. As a result, these drivers could drift into other lanes, miss a traffic sign, or even cause an accident.
Is inattentional blindness selective attention?
While often confused, Inattentional blindness and selective attention have several individual differences. Inattentional blindness refers to a potential perceptual processing flaw that can cause the brain to not notice an unexpected visual stimulus while focusing on another task. In some cases, the objects may be relevant to the observer and even hazardous, as one can see with distracted driving accidents.
Selective attention has more to do with focusing on a specific object while tuning out other details in one’s environment. One example could be walking in a noisy environment with multiple stimuli. You likely focus on only a few elements of this situation, like the conversation you are having or the path you are walking. This isn’t a failure of the brain like inattentional blindness, but rather a coping mechanism designed to filter out irrelevant environmental components and dedicate mental resources to what's important.
What are the effects of inattentional blindness?
Inattentional blindness can have several negative effects depending on where it occurs and what objects the brain is failing to see. For example, if a person was driving a semi-truck and was distracted by their GPS or radio, they may not see a passenger vehicle enter their blind spot. As a result, they could switch lanes and cause an accident that may result in multiple injuries or fatalities.
In other situations, the effects could be more benign but still harmful. For example, a person at their job filling out an order for a customer while also thinking about how they need to pay their bills soon may not realize they are using the wrong form or ordering the wrong items. The mistake may be as small as mixing up black and white objects or failing to record a small detail. Still, as a result, the order may not go through correctly, and they could be reprimanded by their supervisor.
How do you prevent inattentional blindness?
While research has shown that reducing susceptibility to inattentional blindness can be difficult, there are a few strategies that may help someone avoid missing objects or making mistakes.
- Avoid Secondary Tasks: If you are working on something it can be tempting to start another task at the same time (aka multitasking) in order to complete your work more quickly. Doing so may increase how often you experience inattentional blindness, which could make you less productive.
- Decrease Distractions: Distractions, like using a smartphone or talking to a friend, can make it more difficult to focus on what someone is doing. Removing these distractions may decrease inattentional blindness, as your attentional capacity could be at its limit.
- Engage with Clear Information: If the task you are focusing on is filled with confusing information or certain perceptual dimensions, it may be easier to succumb to inattentional blindness as a result. By ensuring any visual information you encounter is clear and concise, you may be able to avoid missing important items.
What is inattentional blindness psychology today?
Today’s psychological community defines inattentional blindness as the ability of people to “sometimes fail to notice salient unexpected objects when their attention is otherwise occupied.” Some professionals in the field of cognitive psychology see inattentional blindness as a result of the limited availability of cognitive resources, like working memory and spatial attention. In addition, research suggests that this phenomenon has less to do with an individual’s cognitive abilities and more to do with the visual scene and conditions surrounding a specific occurrence of inattentional blindness.
What are the failures of awareness in the case of inattentional blindness?
Inattentional blindness is a failure of awareness relating to objects within a person’s field of vision. In many cases, awareness of this object is restored once it is pointed out. This lapse in conscious perception is often due to our limited attentional abilities. Typically, the brain can only focus on a certain amount of objects and tasks at one time. As we add secondary tasks and distractions, we fail to notice irrelevant (or relevant) objects, even though we technically can see them. Inattentional blindness can happen in a number of circumstances, including at work, while watching a movie, or while driving.
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