If you're not looking for it, you probably won't see it

July 19, 2013

If you were working on something at your computer and a gorilla floated across your computer screen, would you notice it? You would like to think yes, however, research shows that people often miss such events when engaged in a difficult task. This is a phenomenon known as inattentional blindness (IB). In a new study from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) in Boston, researchers have found that even expert searchers, operating in their domain of expertise, are vulnerable to inattentional blindness. This study published this week Psychological Science.

"When engaged in a demanding task, attention can act like a set of blinders, making it possible for to pass, undetected, right in front of our eyes," explained Trafton Drew, PhD, post-doctoral researcher at BWH and lead author on this study. "We found that even experts are vulnerable to this phenomenon."

The researchers asked 24 radiologists to perform a familiar lung nodule detection task. They examined five scans; each scan contained an average of 10 nodules. A gorilla, 48 times larger than the average nodule, was inserted in the last scan. The researchers found that 83 percent of radiologists did not report seeing the gorilla. With the help of Melissa Le-Hoa Vo, post-doctoral researcher at BWH, the researchers tracked the eye-movements of the radiologists and found that that the majority of those who missed the gorilla looked directly at it.

"The radiologists missed the not because they could not see them, but because the way their brains had framed what they were doing. They were looking for cancer nodules, not gorillas," explained Jeremy Wolfe, senior psychologist and director of the Visual Attention Laboratory at BWH. "This study helps illustrate that what we become focused on becomes the center of our world, and it shapes what we can and cannot see."

The researchers note that it would be a mistake to regard these results as an indictment of and stress that even this high level of expertise does not immunize against inherent attentional limitations of what we perceive. The results suggest that even expert searchers typically only see what they are looking for, and are often unaware of the unexpected. The researchers hope that the results will lead more expert searchers to recognize the important role of attention in determining what the searcher will find and what they may miss.

Explore further: Lung nodule matching software dramatically increases radiologists' efficiency

Related Stories

Lung nodule matching software dramatically increases radiologists' efficiency

June 26, 2012
An automated lung nodule matching program can improve radiologists' efficiency almost two-fold, a first of its kind study shows.

How memory load leaves us 'blind' to new visual information

October 1, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Trying to keep an image we've just seen in memory can leave us blind to things we are 'looking' at, according to the results of a new study supported by the Wellcome Trust.

How our focus can silence the noisy world around us

May 27, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- How can someone with perfectly normal hearing become deaf to the world around them when their mind is on something else? New research funded by the Wellcome Trust suggests that focusing heavily on a task ...

Searching for tumors or handguns can be like looking for food

August 7, 2012
If past experience makes you think there's going to be one more cashew at the bottom of the bowl, you're likely to search through those mixed nuts a little longer.

Recommended for you

Toddlers begin learning rules of reading, writing at very early age, study finds

July 25, 2017
Even the proudest of parents may struggle to find some semblance of meaning behind the seemingly random mish-mash of letters that often emerge from a toddler's first scribbled and scrawled attempts at putting words on paper.

Exposure to violence hinders short-term memory, cognitive control

July 24, 2017
Being exposed to and actively remembering violent episodes—even those that happened up to a decade before—hinders short-term memory and cognitive control, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National ...

Using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

July 24, 2017
New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can't buy happiness.

Researchers pave new path toward preventing obesity

July 24, 2017
People who experience unpredictable childhoods due to issues such as divorce, crime or frequent moves face a higher risk of becoming obese as adults, according to a new study by a Florida State University researcher.

Higher cognitive abilities linked to greater risk of stereotyping

July 24, 2017
People with higher cognitive abilities are more likely to learn and apply social stereotypes, finds a new study. The results, stemming from a series of experiments, show that those with higher cognitive abilities also more ...

Psychologists say our 'attachment style' applies to social networks like Facebook

July 24, 2017
A new investigation appearing this week in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests a strong association between a person's attachment style—how avoidant or anxious people are in their close relationships—and ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

PeterD
1 / 5 (2) Jul 22, 2013
Why did they waste time doing a new study? This has been know for at least 50 years.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.