Inattentional Blindness

Attention plays a vital role in our visual perception. Despite being fully conscious, sometimes we overlook an unexpected incident happening in front of us. One of the primary reasons behind it is that our focus was somewhere. So we could not grasp what was happening around us together. Attention creates an invisible world to hide reality. Such a type of incident is called inattentional blindness. Most of the time, we are not ready for such sudden occurrences. So despite being present at the site, we fail to notice or perceive that incident. The term inattentional blindness was coined by Irvin Rock and Arien Mack.

What is Inattentional Blindness?

Irvin Rock and Arien Mack first initiated research about perception and attention. According to them, this sighted blindness happens because the observers' senses are not excited by the stimulus as they are engaged in some other objects. Though the incidents occur just in front of the observers, and there is no hindrance to watching it, they feel to perceive it. This phenomenon is labeled as inattentional blindness.

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons have experimented with inattentional blindness through a well-known "invisible gorilla test." Here the participants are asked to watch a basketball video, and they are suggested to count the number of passes or the number of throwing vs. bounce passes. As the participants' senses were occupied entirely with watching the video, they had not noticed that a woman dressed like a gorilla had passed through the scene. There was no hindrance to notice her, but the participants were wholly absorbed in counting the passes, so the gorilla became invisible to their senses.

Instances of Inattentional Blindness

Several actual instances of inattentional blindness can be found in our daily lives. Some potential situations are as follows −

  • While watching movies, we get so absorbed in the storyline and acting that we may not notice some giant blooper appear on the screen. For example, while watching a historical movie on ancient Greece, the presence of airplanes on the screen may remain unnoticed.

  • While playing video games, our attention is wholly engaged in finding a particular type of 'bad guy.' in such a way that we may not notice another threat is coming from the other side of our character. Finally, we ended up losing the game.

  • While crossing the road, our attention is absorbed on the road. So sometimes we cannot see cars coming from other directions, and thus traffic accidents occur.

  • While driving on the road, we may be preoccupied with thinking about something else. In that meantime, we may not notice when the traffic turns red. At last, we end up filing traffic fines for not stopping the car.

Classifying features of Inattentional Blindness

There are some following symptoms by which we can find out if we are the prey of inattentional blindness. Though inattentional blindness is very common to all of us, it happens several times in our life span. Some of the classifying features of inattentional blindness are −

  • The object is evident, and observers can notice it if they have been looking for it. Nevertheless, the senses fail to grasp the object.

  • The object or the incident is unexpected mainly or unpredicted.

  • Though the object is placed near the observers, they fail to notice it.

  • The failure occurs as the attention of the observers is engaged with some other objects. So, the senses are the hindrance to identifying visual stimuli.

The Factors Related to Inattentional Blindness

Similarity and likeliness have a significant role in inattentional blindness. From the instances of the 'invisible gorilla experiment,' things may get clear. In this experiment, the participants were asked to count the passes of either black or white teams. The results show that, of the participants counting the passes of the white team, only 42% noticed the gorilla. However, of the participants counting the passes of the black team, 83% of them saw the gorilla. The reason is that the gorilla was also dressed in black. So the second type of participants' senses grasps this color stimuli, taking it as task-relevant stimuli. So, most of them noticed the gorilla more than the first team.


Our senses, by default, are made in a way where we seize only the necessary details rather than every tiny object around us. Among these essential things, only those stimuli that already exist in our schemas excite us. In the gorilla case, the participants were supposed to look at the basketball event. So their senses were not responding to the happening in other real-world settings. It simply erases other unpredictable incidents as they were unimportant at the time.

Inattentional Blindness vs. Inattentional Amnesia

Sometimes what happens though we notice unexpected incidents happening, we forget it when we are asked about it. Our schema does not take it as essential. That is why it does not enlist that incident in our memory. It is called inattentional amnesia. However, it is difficult to differentiate it from inattentional blindness. It is because, in both cases, our memory does not register that incident, whether we can or cannot notice this.

Inattentional Blindness & Change Blindness

Change blindness fails to consider the unexpected as something different from the ongoing incidents. In this case, the observer does not think that particular unexpected incident was worth noticing, which is a misunderstanding. However, inattentional blindness differs from it, where the person ignores that unpredictable occurrence.

Inattentional Blindness & Inattentional Agnosia

Inattentional agnosia is also a somewhat similar problem to inattentional blindness. In the former case, the observers notice that specific object in the display. Nevertheless, it is not essential at that time. So, his memory does not process it extensively. This case is similar to inattentional amnesia, where the observer notices the incident, but his memory does not register it. Inattentional blindness is very close to inattentional agnosia. Even for the researchers, it is not easy to differentiate, even as they cannot get enough data about their observations.


So far, it can be known that inattentional blindness is a limitation of our visual system. Our attention and importance play significant roles in perceiving something. Nevertheless, they keep us focused on some essential aspects. So, the unexpected happenings stay out of the way. It is not an acute disease, so no treatment is needed.

Updated on: 08-Nov-2022


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