SALT LAKE CITY, April 18, 2011 University of Utah psychologists have learned why many people experience "inattention blindness" the phenomenon that leaves drivers on cell phones prone to traffic accidents and makes a gorilla invisible to viewers of a famous video.
The answer: People who fail to see something right in front of them while they are focusing on something else have lower "working memory capacity" a measure of "attentional control," or the ability to focus attention when and where needed, and on more than one thing at a time.
"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," says the study's first author, Janelle Seegmiller, a psychology doctoral student.
The study explaining why some people are susceptible to inattention blindness and others are not will be published in the May issue of The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.
Seegmiller conducted the research with two psychology faculty members Jason Watson, an assistant professor, and David Strayer, a professor and leader of several studies about cell phone use and distracted driving.
"We found that people who notice the gorilla are better able to focus attention," says Watson, also an assistant investigator with the university's Brain Institute.
'The Invisible Gorilla' Test for Inattention Blindness
The new study used a video made famous by earlier "inattention blindness" research featured in the 2010 book "The Invisible Gorilla," by Christopher Chabris, a psychologist at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and Daniel Simons, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The video depicts six actors passing a basketball. Viewers are asked to count the number of passes. Many p
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University of Utah