Memory load leaves us ‘blind’ to new information
Trying to keep an image we’ve just seen in memory can leave us blind to things we are ‘looking’ at, according to the results of a study by researchers at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.
It’s been known for some time that when our brains are focused on a task, we can fail to see other things that are in plain sight. This phenomenon, known as ‘inattentional blindness’, is exemplified by the famous ‘invisible gorilla’ experiment where people concentrate on a video of players throwing around a basketball and try to count the number of times the ball is thrown, but fail to observe a man in a gorilla suit walk across the centre of the screen.
The new results reveal that our visual field does not need to be cluttered with other objects to cause this ‘blindness’ and that focusing on remembering something we have just seen is enough to make us unaware of things that happen around us.“An example of where this is relevant in the real world is when people are following directions on a Sat Nav whilst driving,” explains Professor Nilli Lavie from UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, who led the study. “Our research would suggest that focusing on remembering the directions we’ve just seen on the screen means that we’re more likely to fail to observe other hazards around us on the road, for example an approaching motorbike or a pedestrian on a crossing, even though we may be ‘looking’ at where we’re going.”