How pure irrelevance turns things invisible

Posted on June 28, 2013

There's such a blizzard of sensory information out there, the brain would be overwhelmed if it weren't for a spotlight process of selective attention that allows us to focus. This means that once we're tuned into certain aspects of the environment, we're left blind to events outside of our selective attention - a phenomenon called "inattentional blindness".

Related to this is the idea of attention as a finite resource. It's partly because our processing powers are depleted by the focus of our attention that we're left blind to that which we ignore. A new study builds on the finite resource element of this story. Baruch Eitam and his colleagues propose that pure irrelevance is enough to render information invisible even if we have plenty of resources available for processing that information. It brings a new spin to our understanding of "induced blindness" that's not just about attentional load but also about salience and motivation.

Eitam and his colleagues said their research suggests there are two kinds of induced blindness - the first involves the unavailability of processing resources and is accompanied by a lack of visual awareness, so the missed information is literally not seen. The second, demonstrated here, is based on irrelevance alone and is related to not having sufficiently processed information that was seen.

Source material from British Psychological Society

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