weinm027: September 2011 Archives

Inattentional Blindness

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Imagine that you are sitting alone in a room, studying very diligently for your next psychology exam. Maybe you're looking over your notes, reviewing the study guide, or completing the practice test. Regardless of what you're studying, the key point is that you are deeply immersed in the captivating world of psychology. However, you suddenly feel a strange sensation, as if someone has just poked you. Indeed, you have been poked. You begrudgingly turn your head away from your work to find that your friend is sitting in the chair next to you, attempting to get your attention. This incident raises several questions: How did this happen? Who actually pokes people outside of Facebook? More importantly, how did your friend enter the room and sit down in the chair right next to you, without you even noticing? The answer to this last question is inattentional blindness.

Inattentional blindness is the phenomenon that takes place when a person is focusing all of his/her attention upon a subject, consequently failing to notice other important things that are happening in their surrounding environment. In the example, you, the responsible and dedicated student that you are, are absorbed in your studying. All of your attention is centered on one task, leaving you clueless to the fact that someone else has entered the room. This situation occurs more than we realize as, evidently, we don't realize when it is actually happening.

Studies have been conducted to analyze such occurrences, whether people will notice external stimuli or merely miss it due to their high levels of concentration. One of the more prominent studies about inattentional blindness consists of the subjects watching a video of a group of people throwing a basketball around. They are instructed to count the number of times the basketball is thrown, causing the subjects to focus all their attention on keeping track of the passes. During the video, someone will walk across the screen in front of the basketball players, it could be a woman with an umbrella or a person dressed in a gorilla costume. Either way, a majority of the subjects entirely missed the fact that someone walked into the video even though it was blatantly obvious. This study and many other similar ones are discussed in an essay aptly named "Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events" (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.125.9246&rep=rep1&type=pdf).

The question now stands, how does inattentional blindness affect us in our daily lives? Looking at it from multiple perspectives, it can affect our lives in positive or negative ways. The positive aspect includes it allowing us to concentrate when we need to, allowing students to work on their homework even when their roommate has the TV on in the background. On the other hand, it can be harmful if a person doesn't notice a dangerous change in their environment due to their concentration. Questions for further investigation include: How can we discern when to be on our guard and when to let ourselves fully become unaware of our environment? Is there a way to control when we are subject to inattentional blindness or is it completely "inattentional"? Although it may often be harmless, inattentional blindness is a central concept to understand and one that will need further investigation in the future.
(For more information and examples of inattentional blindness see:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ0l9s8_Hmk&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PLA8472D081B0EA6FC
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7LuvAM6XLg&feature=bf_next&list=PLA8472D081B0EA6FC&lf=results_main )

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