Inattentional Blindness: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Inattentional Blindness can affect anyone just dependent on their focus. This lesson discusses what inattentional blindness is, why it happens, and some examples of the phenomena.

What is Inattentional Blindness?

Have you ever had a moment when you are watching something on TV, focused on a new show you had been waiting to see, and then you are getting lectured because you didn't realize someone had come home 15 minutes before? This is an example of inattentional blindness. Inattentional blindness is the phenomena where someone completely misses something in their visual eye line because they were focusing on something else, and new vision is unexpected.

This term was actually created by two psychologists: Arien Mack and Irvin Rock. They were doing perception activities and tests, and found that their subjects would completely miss an unexpected thing in their vision if they were focused on a separate event. This is not actual blindness, instead it infers that what we see is based on what we expect to see, which could mean we are constantly missing things in our sights, because we didn't think they would be there, so for us they aren't.

Why Does Inattentional Blindness Happen?

According to psychologists inattentional blindness happens because the brain only focuses on the things we expect to see. If it tried to intake everything we saw around us, it could actually drive us crazy. So it focuses purely on what we are looking for, or expect to see based on our experiences during our life. Essentially, our brains are taking in external stimuli and then processing it, and providing only certain images to us, instead of all of them.

There are several things that can create inattentional blindness other than expectation:

  • The boldness of the visual - If whatever in your eye line is brighter or just in complete contrast of the area it is in, it is likely more seen. But if the thing blends in with the background, then it will be even more missed.
  • Weariness or numbness - If you brain is affected by alcohol or tiredness it is more likely to miss visual cues.
  • Brain capacity - How much we will see is also based on how much our brain can take in, which s effected by intelligence and age. As we age our minds cannot take in as much so we will miss more.

Examples of Inattentional Blindness

Some classic examples of inattentional blindness are things we deal with every day.

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