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

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated May 1, 2024by 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. Inattentional blindness can be a common experience, but if it is happening more often than you would like or it is negatively impacting your daily life, online therapy may help.

Want to reduce your inattentional blindness?

Inattentional blindness defined

Inattentional blindness is a psychological phenomenon where an individual may not consciously perceive an unexpected object or stimulus, despite it being obvious within their visual field. This lack of perception 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. 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, also commonly referred to as perceptual blindness, and its implications. 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 the gorilla basketball, participants were so focused on counting basketball passes that half of them missed 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, in which 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 in the middle of the road, you might not notice it until it's too late, even if you're paying attention to your surroundings.

Distracted driving exemplifies inattentional blindness and can lead to severe consequences, especially among younger adults who may be more prone to multitasking while driving. 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 a lack of attentional resources. 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. 

Inattentional blindness 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.

Inattentional blindness vs. 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. But there are some minor differences between the two phenomena. Inattentional blindness refers to instances when we fail to see an object or another stimulus in our field of vision. Change blindness refers to instances when we fail to notice a change in an object that we are already aware of.

Examples of change blindness include:

  • Not perceiving that an object is in a different location 
  • Reading the content of a website and not noticing that the color of the website background gradually changes as you scroll down
  • Not noticing that a person you are talking to changed the jacket they were wearing while you were not looking

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 reduce your inattentional blindness?

Both change blindness and inattentional blindness can be less likely to occur in particular situations. 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 would probably be more likely to catch unexpected errors in a story or article than the average reader.

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. 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 particular directions for safely administering the drug. This situation 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 situation 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. If you experience frequent inattentional blindness that hinders your daily tasks or relationships, you may be able to improve your perception and focusing skills.

If you’ve noticed that inattentional blindness is affecting your daily life, you might be experiencing stress or anxiety about its impact. Research has shown that online therapy can be effective for a variety of concerns, including alleviating such symptoms.


When you don't see something that is right in front of you, you might be experiencing inattentional blindness. Inattentional blindness can often happen when you're not expecting to see a specific stimulus or when you're focused on something else. Multitasking and distracted driving are examples of scenarios in which the risk of inattentional blindness may be heightened. Although most people experience inattentional blindness from time to time, you may want to consider online therapy if inattentional blindness is causing you stress or affecting your daily life significantly.
Seeking to improve your mental health?
The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet started