If you were watching a video of a basketball game and were trying to count the number of passes the players made, wouldn’t you notice if a man in a gorilla suit walked across the court? Not necessarily—especially if you were concentrating hard on counting those passes. Several studies have shown that test subjects missed all kinds of distractions, such as the anachronistic gorilla, if they were told to watch for something else. The phenomenon is called inattentional blindness, and it can keep you from seeing what is in plain sight.
A new study shows that you don’t even need to be watching something to miss the obvious. The study focused on how just trying to remember what one has seen is enough to render us practically blind to what is right in front of us. For example, if you are driving and trying to recall the directions that your satellite navigation system just provided, you may not really see the bicyclist, pedestrian, or wayward deer that is right in front of you—even though you are looking where you are going.
During the recent study, the scientists watched the subjects’ brain activity, along with their direct responses to the stimulus. The results showed reduced activity in the area that processes incoming visual information. In other words, the brains had too much to handle at one time, causing a “load-induced blindness.”
So the next time you’re driving and a passenger tells you to “keep your eyes on the road,” remember that you also need to keep your mind on all that’s happening around you.
Image credit: © Fotolia
- How Memory Load Leaves Us “Blind” to New Visual Information
The basics of the study are at this web site.
(Source: Wellcome Trust, October 1, 2012)
- Inattentional Blindness
Daniel J. Simons, of the Visual Cognition Lab, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, describes various aspects of the phenomenon.
(Source: Scholarpedia; accessed October 31, 2012)
- Inattentional Blindness Videos
Choose among many videos that demonstrate inattentional blindness. Videos of the “invisible gorilla” test are included.
(Source: various sources; accessed October 31, 2012)