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Inattentional Blindness

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Inattentional Blindness

Psychological research on inattentional blindness tries to understand why we do not remember everything we see. Psychologists generally assume that we must pay attention to what we see for it to enter our long-term memory.

What is inattentional blindness?

Inattentional blindness is when someone fails to notice a stimulus because they are not paying attention. An example of inattentional blindness is looking at a map while driving and not noticing an animal in front of the car. Similar concepts of psychology as inattentional blindness include:

  • Change blindness vs inattentional blindness change blindness is a similar concept to inattentional blindness, except that people cannot perceive changes in stimuli.
  • Unilateral hemispatial neglect typically affects one hemisphere of the brain and causes the person not to perceive things in the visual field opposite the damaged area.

In a study by Simons and Levin (1998), an experimenter started a conversation with a pedestrian. Halfway through, some workers intervened, and a confederate swapped places with the original experimenter. Only half of the participants noticed this switch.

The brain has a contralateral relationship, meaning that the right hemisphere processes things we see in the left visual field. Therefore, the left hemisphere processes things seen in the right visual field. Unilateral hemispatial neglect is a neurological symptom of physical trauma to the brain or a symptom following a stroke.

What did Simon and Chabris (1999) investigate?

Simon and Chabris’ research aimed to complement Moray’s (1959) research. Moray’s research focused on understanding auditory attention. Simon and Chabris, on the other hand, investigated visual attention. The research goal was to measure the extent of inattentional blindness under different conditions when we watch dynamic video clips. The research explains why we do not always remember the things we see.

Research design

The sample included 228 participants, predominantly undergraduate students who volunteered to participate in the experiment. The design was a lab experiment that used independent measures design. The independent variables were:

  • White versus black conditiontwo basketball teams were shown. Participants had to either observe the team wearing white or black.
  • Easy versus hard Task condition participants had to count either the number of passes made between the team in their head (easy) or the number of bounce passes and aerial passes made between the team in their head (hard) the team they were asked to count for depends on the team determined in the level 1 condition.
  • Umbrella woman condition versus gorilla condition a tall woman with an open umbrella, entered the playing field, or a shorter woman in a gorilla costume entered the playing field. In each condition, they were shown for 5 seconds.

Two types of video clips were shown: transparent and opaque. In the opaque condition, the unexpected clip was shown clearly, while in the transparent condition, the visibility of the unexpected event was less clear. The two levels of the IV participants were tested on were:

  1. White easy/white hard/black easy/black hard.
  2. Opaque umbrella woman/transparent umbrella woman/opaque gorilla/transparent gorilla

The dependent variable was the number of participants (in %) who noticed the unexpected event (the ‘umbrella woman’/gorilla). First, researchers obtained informed consent from participants. Participants received standardised instructions. The researchers read them to the participants to ensure everyone receives the same instructions. This is to reduce external factors affecting the validity of the results. This also ensures the study is replicable and consistent (may infer internal reliability).

Standardised instructions are usually written instructions from the researchers.

Then, participants were shown four video clips in which three people from each team played basketball. The unexpected event occurred halfway through the video clips (woman with umbrella or woman in the gorilla costume). After the video clips, participants had to write down how many passes they counted and fill out a questionnaire. If at any point, participants indicated they had noticed the unexpected event, the remaining questions were skipped.

The questionnaire included the following questions:

  1. Did you notice anything unusual on the video while counting?
  2. Did you notice anything else besides the six players?
  3. Did you see anyone else appear on the video besides the six players?
  4. Did you see a gorilla (a woman with an umbrella) walking across the screen?

Results of the Study

Some participants had to be excluded, so the remaining data was from 192 participants. 54% noticed the unexpected event, and 46% did not.

  • More participants noticed it in the opaque condition (67%) than transparent (42%).
  • More participants noticed the event in the mild condition (64%) than in the severe condition (45%).
  • More noticed the umbrella woman (65%) than the gorilla (44%).

The table shows the percentages of participants who noticed the umbrella woman/gorilla in the white/black conditions.

GorillaUmbrella-woman
White team27%69%
Black team58%62%

There was hardly any difference between the white and the black condition when the umbrella woman was shown in the video clip.

The researchers concluded that the results confirm people are inattentive when observing dynamic events. They also found that task difficulty influences the extent of inattentional blindness. The results demonstrate that people perceive things more with similar basic characteristics (in this study, colour). The gorilla was black, and participants perceived it more when they observed the black team. The results contradict the traditional view that people perceive things that stand out in visual search tasks.

Evaluation of Simon and Chabris (1999) research

The study by Simon and Chabris (1999) added to previous research on attention. The study advanced psychological research by identifying the factors involved in inattentional blindness. This has practical applications in real life, such as showing the importance of focusing on a specific task. Apart from practical applications, some other strengths and weaknesses should be considered when understanding the results.

In terms of driving, the study shows that the following factors can cause/influence inattentional blindness:

  • Poor visibility, e.g., in bad weather.
  • Physical features, such as other cars, can be perceived, while animals cannot.
  • If you are doing a difficult task while driving.

Strengths of the research

The study was standardised, therefore it has internal consistency (internal reliability). In addition, researchers can easily replicate the study. This means other researchers can determine and measure the reliability of the results. A large sample was used, so the results can be generalised to the population as a whole

There are limitations, however, because the sample consisted mainly of university students. The study did not raise any ethical issues. Since the experiment was conducted in a controlled environment, there is less likelihood of extraneous or confounding variables affecting the validity of the results.

Limitations of the research

The study had low ecological validity because the experiment was conducted in an artificial laboratory environment. This may influence the participants’ behaviour and reduce the validity of the results. The study also cannot find explanations for cause and effect. Research shows that many factors such as task difficulty and stimulus visibility are involved in inattention bias. However, research cannot prove whether these factors are the cause or an effect of inattentional blindness.

Inattentional Blindness - Key takeaways

  • Inattentional blindness is when someone fails to perceive a stimulus that is obviously present because they are not paying attention.
  • The purpose of Simon and Chabris’ (1999) study was to measure the extent of inattentional blindness under different conditions when viewing dynamic video clips.
  • The results showed people are inattentive when watching dynamic events.
  • The strengths of the study are real-life application, high internal reliability, generalisability, and high internal validity.
  • The weaknesses of the study are low ecological validity and no cause-effect relationship can be established.

Frequently Asked Questions about Inattentional Blindness

Inattentional blindness is when someone fails to notice a stimulus because they are not paying attention.

Inattentional blindness prevents our visual system from processing all the stimuli seen.

A way to prevent inattentional blindness is by concentrating on a task and not getting distracted by others.

The cause of inattentional blindness is not paying attention to stimuli.

Inattentional blindness generally occurs because an individual is distracted and not paying attention or is so fixated on a task that they miss other visual information. 

Final Inattentional Blindness Quiz

Question

Who carried out research on inattentional blindness? 

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Answer

Simon and Chabris (1999).

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Question

Which researcher’s theory did Simon and Chabris (1999) attempt to build on?

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Answer

Moray’s (1959) research on auditory information.

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Question

What is inattentional blindness?

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Answer

Inattentional blindness is not noticing a stimulus that is evidently there due to concentrating on something else.

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Question

How does change blindness and inattentional blindness differ?

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Answer

Change blindness is a similar concept to inattentional blindness, except that people cannot perceive changes in stimuli. Whereas, intentional blindness is when someone fails to notice a stimulus because they are not paying attention.

Show question

Question

What experimental design did Simon and Chabris (1999) use?

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Answer

Simon and Chabris (1999) did a lab experiment that used an independent measures design. 

Show question

Question

What were the two levels of the independent variable that were participants tested in?

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Answer

The two levels of the IV participants were tested on are:

  1. White easy/white hard/black easy/black hard.
  2. Opaque umbrella woman/transparent umbrella woman/opaque gorilla/ transparent gorilla.

Show question

Question

What was the dependent variable measured in Simon and Chabris (1999) research?

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Answer

The dependent variable was the number of participants (%) who noticed the unexpected event (the ‘umbrella woman’/gorilla).

Show question

Question

Which of the following groups noticed the unexpected event more?

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Answer

Opaque.

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Question

Which of the following groups noticed the unexpected event more? 

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Answer

Easy condition.

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Question

Which of the following was noticed more?

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Answer

Umbrella-women.

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Question

How many participants were recruited in the study? 

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Answer

The study recruited 228 participants. However, some participants were excluded from the data. The analysis was done on 192 participants data. 

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Question

What was the percentage of participants who noticed the unexpected event?

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Answer

The number of participants who noticed the unexpected event was 54%.

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Question

What was the percentage of participants who did not notice the unexpected event?

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Answer

The number of participants who did not notice the unexpected event was 46%.

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Question

Which of these findings did not support the traditional view of visual search tasks? 

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Answer

White Gorilla condition.

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Question

What are the strengths of Simon and Chabris (1999) research? 

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Answer

The strengths of the research are:

  • Real-life application.
  • High internal reliability.
  • Generalisable.
  • High internal validity.

Show question

Question

What are the weaknesses of Simon and Chabris (1999) research? 

Show answer

Answer

The weaknesses of the research are:

  • Low ecological validity.
  • Cause-and-effect cannot be established.

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