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Focusing on One Thing May Blind People to the Obvious
Date:4/20/2011

WEDNESDAY, April 20 (HealthDay News) -- A new study offers insight into "inattention blindness," a phenomenon that causes people to lose sight of seemingly obvious things while they focus intensely on something else.

The study authors, in an effort to shed light on how inattention blindness may make drivers more prone to traffic accidents if they are talking on their cell phone, used a video from earlier research on what is called "selective attention" as an example of how people can lose focus on everything around them while being very focused on one thing.

The video shows a small group of people passing around two basketballs. Viewers are told to count how many times the ball is passed by the players in white shirts. Many viewers focus so intensely on the task that they fail to notice a person in a gorilla suit enter the frame and walk between the players.

"Because people are different in how well they can focus their attention, this may influence whether you'll see something you're not expecting -- in this case, a person in a gorilla suit walking across the computer screen," study lead author Janelle Seegmiller, a psychology doctoral student at the University of Utah, said in a university news release.

In the new study, the researchers tested 197 students, aged 18 to 35, who hadn't seen the video before. The subjects had previously been tested with a set of math and memory problems, and had to get 80 percent right to be accepted into the study.

The study authors were focusing on something called working-memory capacity, which "is how much you can process in your working memory at once," Seegmiller explained. "Working memory is the stuff you are dealing with right at that moment, like trying to solve a math problem or remember your grocery list. It's not long-term memory."

The subjects watched the video, and researchers measured their working-memory capacity. Again, subjects had to get 80 percent of
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