Concept of the Day: Inattentional Blindness – Is seeing believing?

What you see and what I see may be completely different, which might be caused by Inattentional Blindness.

Picture this: a teen-ager, cruising down a familiar highway, keeping a conscientious eye on the speedometer, the rear view mirror, the oncoming traffic. Too late, he notices a deer standing in the road. He slams on the brakes but can’t avoid striking the animal.

Later, the teen insists to his skeptical parents that his eyes were on the road–he was paying attention to his driving. He just never saw the deer.

Why are the boy’s parents skeptical? Because intuitively, people believe that as long as our eyes are open, we are seeing. Even as we recognize that the brain does a lot of processing behind the scenes, we expect that at least salient objects–a large animal in our path, for example–will capture our attention.

Sights unseen – American Psychology Association

It seems obvious that the teenager should see the deer, but he didn’t, and it’s not because he wasn’t giving the road the attention he should have. They were looking but they didn’t see.

This isn’t a teenage issue though, we all do it. We all miss what is in plain sight.

The article linked above will give you more details on the theories about why this is, but it’s sufficient for this post to highlight that there is a discrepancy between what is there and what we see, and that the discrepancy has something to do with what we expect to see. The poor teenager probably didn’t see the deer because he wasn’t expecting to see a deer, his limited driving experience hadn’t equipped him with that expectation.

That’s a really interesting thought for all of us who need to communicate – which is all of us. What are people expecting to see in what we are communicating and will they see the things they aren’t expecting to see.

Likewise, for those of us being communicated to – which is all of us – what is it that we are missing because we didn’t expect it to be there.

I don’t have any answers (again) all I wanted to do was highlight a situation that we may not be aware of.

There are numerous examples of Inattentional Blindness on YouTube, this is the most famous:

This first one was such an internet sensation that now everyone knows what they are expecting to see (did you see it?) Knowing this the creators of the original fashioned a sequel:

This sequel has also been quite popular, so perhaps you were even expecting to see the differences in this one.

Daniel Simmons TEDx talk on the subject is also worth watching as is his article in the Smithsonian Magazine where he highlights a criminal case where this phenomena may have created a miscarriage of justice.

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