Inattentional blindness reflects limitations on perception, not memory: Evidence from repeated failures of awareness.

Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 22:722-727 (2015)
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Perhaps the most striking phenomenon of visual awareness is inattentional blindness (IB), in which a surprisingly salient event right in front of you may go completely unseen when unattended. Does IB reflect a failure of perception, or only of subsequent memory? Previous work has been unable to answer this question, due to a seemingly intractable dilemma: ruling out memory requires immediate perceptual reports, but soliciting such reports fuels an expectation that eliminates IB. Here we introduce a way of evoking repeated IB in the same subjects and the same session: we show that observers fail to report seeing salient events’ not only when they have no expectation, but also when they have the wrong expectations about the events nature. This occurs when observers must immediately report seeing anything unexpected, even mid-event. Repeated IB thus demonstrates that IB is aptly named: it reflects a genuine deficit in moment-by-moment conscious perception, rather than a form of inattentional amnesia.

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Emily Ward
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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