Home > Attention > What’s the number to 9-1-1? A study on inattentional blindness and how exercise helps.

What’s the number to 9-1-1? A study on inattentional blindness and how exercise helps.

Girl Falls in Mall Water Fountain While Texting: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wDBaV-mQyw

Screen Shot 2014-11-21 at 1.59.08 PM

([wtfhub], 2011)

Watch the video above.  Notice the woman falling flat on her face?  Psychologists refer to instances, such as this epic camera-caught face-plant, as results of inattentional blindness.  Inattentional blindness refers to an individual’s failure to notice unexpected objects or events when she is focusing her attention on something else (Kellog, 2007).  The widely accepted attenuation model of selective attention provides evidence for inattentional blindness.  According to the attenuation model of selective attention, a person who does not attend to an object in her visual field likely does not perceive that object due to an attenuation filter.  The attenuation filter functions to turn down the signal intensity from unattended stimuli in the environment while letting attended stimuli pass through it onto a perceptual channel, resulting in conscious awareness of the stimuli a person attends to (Kellog, 2007). In this video, the woman clearly was not paying attention to the fountain within her field of vision, so the information regarding the fountain in her sensory memory was tuned out via the attenuation filter, and the presence of the fountain never reached her conscious awareness.

To further investigate inattentional blindness, two psychology researchers, Huttermann and Memmert, designed two experiments to test how inattentional blindness varies for participants under different physical conditions because numerous tasks in life require people to focus their attention while physically moving (Huttermann, 2012).  Huttermann and Memmert theorize that exercise-induced activation of the central nervous system improves cognitive performance; although, it deteriorates at high work capacities.  When people exercise, their blood flow is facilitated throughout the cerebral region, allowing the neurotransmitters to enhance cognitive resources. In this case, exercise would have enhanced one’s ability to focus attention.  However, when people exercise too hard, there is a decrease of oxygen in the blood flow and that can negatively impact the neurotransmitters leading to a decrease in available cognitive resources (Huttermann, 2012).  This may explain why athletes have such quick reflexes; they can easily spot a stimulus, such as a basketball coming towards them.

In the first experiment, the researchers tested males and females with normal vision who participate in sports on a regular basis.  Each participant was tested across one of three conditions: one at rest, another at 50% physical load of maximum heart rate, and another at 70% physical load of maximum heart rate.  Participants were then told to watch a video of two teams—one in while, one in black—playing basketball, and count the number of passes within the white team. During the game, a gorilla—the unexpected stimulus—walked right through the basketball scene.  After the video, participants were asked to record the number of counted passes and to report if they had seen anything unexpected; if they reported that they had seen something unexpected, they were told to describe the object in detail (Huttermann, 2012).


(Simons, 1999)                                                                              (Honda, 2011)

When participants were asked to focus on the passes between the white team, they essentially ignored the black team.  Because the black gorilla is a similar stimulus to the black-colored basketball team, the participants did not attend to it, meaning they did not usually perceive it; therefore, they rarely noticed the gorilla walk right through their field of vision.

Knowing how easy it is for people to miss information right in their field of vision is quite scary.  If you have wandered through big cities like New York City, you have probably unknowingly witnessed a crime take place.  Perhaps you were focusing on the street signs to prevent yourself from getting lost, as you walk right by a person slipping drugs to another person.  Say you were rushing to catch a train and decided to jog to the station; would you be more or less likely to catch this deal on the side of the road if you were jogging rather than walking?

Maybe you are at college enjoying yourself at a party, and you set your drink on the table in front of you while talking with friends only to miss someone spike your drink.  If you were dancing instead of talking with your friends, would you be more or less likely to notice the person spike your drink?

To investigate this topic in more detail, Huttermann and Memmert designed another experiment to test inattentional blindness when the unexpected stimulus is presented within a person’s focus of attention and when the unexpected object is presented outside a person’s focus of attention.  In this case, each participant was asked to focus his or her attention on a specific location on the screen and stimuli would be presented within this range of focus or outside of it through various trials.  Again, the participants would report details on what they saw after each trial.  To test the effect of physical activity on the participant, each participant was tested across one of three conditions: one at rest, another at 60% physical load of maximum heart rate, and another at 70% physical load of maximum heart rate (Huttermann, 2012).

HGOT107_spiked-drink-GHB_FSdrug deal in NY2

(WikiHow, 2012)                                                          (Cropper, 2008)

Relating back to the examples presented earlier…

Imagine you have wandered through the city streets and you focused your attention on the street signs and missed the illegal drug deal occurring within your field of vision as you walked/jogged by.  Would you be more likely to notice the crime if the people were directly below the street sign or if they were in your peripheral vision?

If you are at the college party and you set your drink down right in front of you as opposed to setting it down on the table to the right or left of you (within peripheral vision), would you be more likely to catch the person spike your drink?

How can these experiments teach us about the way we navigate through our stimulus-filled world?  The results from the first experiment show that people engaging in moderate physical exercise are less likely to miss something unexpected entering their field of vision than people at rest or people exercising at 70% load of maximum heart rate.  The results from the second experiment show that when the stimulus moved closer to the range of attentional focus, participants were more likely to notice the stimulus.  The participants under moderate physical stress were even more likely to see the stimulus within this attentional focal range than participants at rest or participants exercising at 70% load of maximum heart rate.  However, when the stimulus was far from the region of attentional focus, the moderate exercise did not seem to benefit the detection of unexpected stimuli.  Regardless of the specifics of these findings, these studies show that we miss out on a lot of information in our environment just by choosing to attend to particular stimuli (Huttermann, 2012).

While this study shows us the effects of inattentional blindness, it also indicates that there are ways to increase cognitive performance.  This experiment shows that while participating in moderate exercise, one decreases his chances of missing out on stimuli in his environment.  Is this because he is more alert due to activation of the central nervous system as Huttermann and Memmert suggested?  If so, there are most likely other ways to increase alertness, such as drinking caffeinated beverages.  However, the key finding here is that cognitive performance can be improved; whether it be by exercise or some other form, one can enhance his ability to attend to stimuli in the environment.  This could be the cognitive enhancement that enables you to spot the person spiking your drink at the party or the drug deal in the city.

To read more about alertness and how caffeine effects it, visit: http://web.colby.edu/cogblog/2014/05/03/does-caffeine-help-academic-performance/




Works cited

[wtfhub]. (2011, January 16). Girl Falls in Mall Water Fountain While Texting

.  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wDBaV-mQyw.

Hutttermann, S., & Memmert, D. (2012). Moderate movement, more vision: Effects of physical exercise on inattentional blindness.  Retrieved November 17, 2014 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23362673.

Kellog, R. T. (2007). Fundamentals of Cognitive Psychology, 1st Ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Simons, Daniel. (1999). The famous invisible gorilla experiment of 1999 displayed the phenomenon of inattentional blindness [image file]. Retrieved November 17, 2014.

WikiHow. (2012). Avoid spiked drinks, step 8. [image file]. Retrieved November, 17, 2014.

Cropper, Edward. (2008). [image file]. Retrieved November 17, 2014.

Honda, Stan. (2011). [image file]. Retrieved November 17, 2014.


Categories: Attention Tags:
  1. December 3rd, 2014 at 21:35 | #1

    This post nicely relates to many ideas we talked about in class, specifically inattentional blindness. The author referenced many sources that prove humans display inattentional blindness, like in the gorilla study. People do not often notice very obvious and intrusive stimuli simply because their attention is not focused on it because they are so focused on something else. In the gorilla study, participants did not notice that a gorilla walked across the scene they were watching because they were engrossed in counting how many passes there were. The distracted driving study is very applicable to everyone’s lives, since most people are often distracted while driving. We physically see much less when we are distracted, and that is a real safety concern. Overall, this post did a great job connecting to our course material.

  2. October 11th, 2015 at 13:40 | #2

    I liked that this post presented some biological causes of attention such as the increased flow of blood to the brain allowing us to attend to something better. I also see the evolutionary importance in this adaptation. If you have an increased heart rate or are exerting a lot of energy it could be because your life is in danger. If that is the case, you want to be highly tuned in to what is going on around you. Therefore, it would be beneficial for survival to have a heightened level of attention when exercising at a high heart rate.
    I would be interested to see if this effect is also observed in other cognitive processes such as pattern recognition. Would an individual be able to recognize patterns in their environment faster when exercising? This also would have an evolutionary benefit for survival. If you were trying to escape from something, it would be useful to be able to recognize a door as a means of escape as quickly as possible. I would be interested in finding out if any studies have been done to research this question.

  3. October 19th, 2015 at 15:56 | #3

    The first thing that pops into my head in this study is the difference between automatic and controlled processes. How automatic is the exercise that the experimenter was making the participant do? I feel like this is something that should be taken into more consideration. If they are making an individual do a task such as biking, a repetitive task that takes minimal cognitive resources, then I would imagine, based on the capacity framework model, that the inattentional blindness would be less and they would be more likely to see the gorilla? In your post you say “This may explain why athletes have such quick reflexes; they can easily spot a stimulus, such as a basketball”. But is this really because of the exercise and physiological changes or is this due to practicing over and over making a controlled process become more like an automatic one? I can imagine that a person who has been exercising on a regular basis would find that the exercising task takes up less of their attentional resources. This being the case they would most likely have more attention to focus on whether or not they saw the gorilla in the video. I would be interested in seeing the results of athletes versus not athletes in a study like this.

    With concern to the walking versus running through the city analogy. I feel that our cognitive processes are being more controlled by out inhibition abilities, making the attention more like the spotlight model and only attending to exogenous cues for additional information. Unless we were looking specifically for the drug deal I don’t think walking versus running would help us attend to that type of interaction.

  4. RRRobbie
    October 19th, 2015 at 19:02 | #4

    I’m interested in this blog because of its further study the relationship between inattentional blindness and different physical conditions. It surprises me that people under a moderate physical stress are more likely to notice the unrelated stimulus. The author of the blog gives a possible explanation that according to Huttermann and Memmert, exercise-induced activation of central nervous system will improve people’s cognitive ability. However, according to another paper(Drew et al., 2013) that I recently read, the ability to notice an unexpected stimulus can also be a result of low working memory performance. When people are under moderate stress, they are more likely to notice the stimulus because physical stress reduce their working memory capacity, thus they are no longer able to stay focus on the source of information and start to attend to irrelevant source of information. And people under hard physical stress having a lower rate of noticing the stimulus can possibly be explained as their working memory capacity level is too low for them to notice the stimulus neither from the source they attend to nor from irrelevant sources.

  5. October 20th, 2015 at 22:31 | #5

    This post is very interesting because it provides another aspect (exercise) to the topic of intentional blindness. Huttermann’s (2012) results from part one of his experiment show that participants performing moderate physical exercise are less likely to miss the gorilla when counting the white team’s passes than participants performing no exercise or exercise at 70% of their max heart rates. When I read this data, I wondered if the participants across all arms of the trial would have been more likely to spot the gorilla if it had been white or if the black team had been passing the ball. In this post, the author states that since the unexpected stimulus (the gorilla) was black, the same color as the team that was not being attended to, the participants were less likely to attend to it, therefore perceive it and notice it walking through the scene. A paper written by Drew et al. (2013) supports the reasoning that subjects failed to notice the gorilla because of its similarity in color to the unattended team. Drew et al. studied inattentional blindness in expert radiologists by testing inattentional blindness on CT scans of lungs. They placed a black gorilla, 48 times the size of an average lung nodule, on images of lung CT scans. When they asked expert radiologists to perform a lung nodule detection task for the CT scans, 83% of the radiologists failed to notice the gorilla, even when they looked directly at it (Drew et al., 2013). One explanation the authors provided for why the radiologists failed to notice the gorilla was that the gorilla was very dark, and the lung-nodules being searched for were very light. The authors suggested that if a light gorilla had been presented on the CT scans, similar to the nodules, the radiologists may have been more likely to notice it. Therefore, as I read this post I thought that the participants in Huttermann’s (2012) study may have been more likely to notice the gorilla if it was white or if the black team was passing the ball, as Drew et al. suggested.
    This post also describes how Huttermann found that once a stimulus is far enough from a region of attentional focus, no difference in exercise helps notice the stimulus better and reduce inattentional blindness. The closer an unexpected stimulus is moved to a person’s range of attentional focus, the more likely the person is to notice it (Huttermann, 2012). When I read these results of the second part of the experiment, I thought immediately of how they highlight the importance of attentional shift. Attentional shift is a controlled, voluntary, conscious process in which we intentionally direct our attention to a certain thing. We need to be able to do this to focus our attention on different areas of our visual field that we deem important. The experimental results suggest that by applying attentional shift we can attempt to reduce our inattentional blindness of stimuli in important parts of our visual field. Keeping stimuli within a certain range of attentional focus can help us reduce the likelihood of not noticing them due to inattentional blindness.

  6. October 21st, 2015 at 13:58 | #6

    I found this post very interesting because it demonstrated many negative effects of inattention blindness, which I think is becoming more and more of a problem in our society today. With smartphones becoming increasingly popular, people tend to stare at their phones more, and pay attention to their surroundings less. The example in this article about not noticing if your drink has gotten spiked brings a huge issue to our campus. I really like how the article shows the real dangers of intentional blindness when it comes to having your drink spiked, and possible ways to prevent it. If you are engaged in other activities and are not paying much attention to your drink, it is very possible that you could miss someone putting an unwanted substance in it. The easiest ways to prevent this would be to put your drink directly in front of you if you have to put it down, and make sure that you are always paying attention to it.

    Another interesting thing that this article brought up is the study (Simons, 1999) that had a gorilla walk through the people playing pass with the ball. This is a study that I was previously familiar with, and since I knew about the unexpected stimulus, it was very easy for my to see the gorilla when it came on stage. However, in class we were shown a similar experiment, and I immediately recognized it as the gorilla experiment. I knew that something there was going to be an unexpected stimulus so I prepared for it. I counted the passes correctly and saw the gorilla and was pretty proud of myself until it was pointed out that the background had completely changed color and a member of the black clothed team had left the screen entirely. Since I was so focused on looking for the gorilla, I had no idea of the two other unexpected changes. This showed me that even though you may think that you are attending to everything, unintentional blindness can still have a huge effect and make you miss very large details.

  7. October 22nd, 2015 at 13:23 | #7

    Inattentional blindness happens to everyone. There have been times when I miss a step or walk into something because I am paying attention to my phone (which is embarrassing!) After reading this blog it made me think about the Drew et al, 2013 study we read in my Cognitive Psychology class. In this study, radiologists had to identify lung nodules on an x-ray but what they didn’t know was that an outline of a Gorilla would be placed on the x-ray amidst the nodules. 83% of the radiologists did not notice the Gorilla because their attention was focused on the lung nodules. It is a scary idea that we can miss information right in front of us! It was interesting that in Maria’s blog post she further explored inattentional blindess and its relationship with exercise. Athletes would be able to better identify a stimulus out of their focus because they are used to objects interfering quickly with their field of view. However, if they are working out too hard, the fatigue can also interfere with their focus, causing them to miss important stimuli. As an athlete I can relate, if I am exhausted after a hard workout I am less likely to be aware of things than when I am going for a leisure run.

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