What is “inattentional blindess?”

Travis DixonCognitive Psychology

The concept of inattentional blindness is a highly relevant topic for many teenagers as it could be applied to the dangerous practice of using a cell phone while driving.

This is the first in a series of short posts that I’ll write that aim to quickly outline key concepts in psychology.

Inattentional blindness is the name given to the phenomenon of not being able to see or perceive a visual stimulus, even when it’s right in front of our visual field because our attention is diverted elsewhere.

This was famously studied by Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris in 1999 when they conducted their “invisible gorilla” tests on Harvard students. Here’s the original video used in that study…

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo]

The invisible gorilla experiment is fun and easy to replicate in class.  

This makes for an interesting topic for the cognitive approach’s HL extenion topic, technology and cognitive processes. I also think this is a highly relevant topic for teenagers, as the findings can readily be generalized to other situations, such as driving a car. You can read an interview with Christopher Chabris from Harvard’s website here, where he discusses these findings in relation to driving.

The idea of inattentional blindness could also be applied to an exam question that asked about “reliability of cognitive processes” (perception is the cognitive process that is being shown to be unreliable in this instance).

This study and other related driving studies can be found in section 8.3 (f) in IB Psychology: A Student’s Guide. 

If you have any requests for a “what is…” post, please leave it in the comments.