Arien Mack and Irvin Rock were the first ones to put forth the term ‘inattentional blindness’ in the year 1992. Inattentional blindness or perceptual blindness is defined as the phenomenon whereby an individual lacks the competence of seeing things that are in his or her visual sight. The reason behind this lack of perception is explained as mental distractions that limit the individual’s potential of seeing things in the visual scene. The way the human mind functions and interprets information also plays a significant role in this phenomenon.
Human beings have a restricted span of attention that in turn limits the quantity of information that is interpreted at a specific time. Things that are not processed by our attention are not perceived. This very phenomenon also comes into play when a blind person obtains sight. Despite gaining sight, he or she still remain perceptually blind as the person cannot identify objects in sight owing to the fact that their mind is unable to process the visual stimuli.
One of the most significant studies conducted in this domain is the one performed by Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Christopher Chabris of Harvard University. During this study, the subjects were instructed to watch a video showing 2 groups of players passing the basketball. The subjects were asked to keep account of either the number of passes made by any one of the two teams or count the number of bounce passes versus the aerial passes. While the game is carrying on, the videos shown to the subjects have either a woman with an umbrella or a lady in a gorilla suit passing through in one of the scenes. In fact, in a particular video, the woman in the gorilla suit is shown quite prominently and she even stops in the middle and pounds her chest while facing the camera. After the video came to an end, the subjects were questioned on anything that they saw that was out of the ordinary. Surprisingly, 50 percent of them did not see the woman in the gorilla at all, thus illustrating that human beings perceive only those things in the visual field that are previously part of their attention.
Another experiment was carried out at NASA in a flight simulator. The objective behind this experiment was to see whether commercial pilots perceive any distractions on a landing strip during simulated landings. The experiment revealed that while trained pilots remained unaffected by the distractions and landed on top of the distraction in one-fourth the time, the untrained lot of pilots perceived the distractions. The phenomenon of inattentional blindness is also utilized well by magicians to trick the public during a magic show.
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