As evidenced by my previous post, I have always been fascinated with the concept of blindness – all types, in fact. Since I discovered my love and interest in psychology, I have found myself to be more aware of examples of anything I learn in class or from the textbooks in everyday life, particularly examples of any kind of blindness. A couple of weeks back my friends and I got together for out weekly Tuesday dinners at Seacobeck. While one of my friends – Timmy – got up from the table to get more food, my prankster friend decided to steal his phone and stash it in my coat pocket. As a side note, my coat is black. When he came back, it took him about twenty minutes to realize his phone was gone. Once he reached that realization, he began quizzing us on where it was. I gave him three clues:
1) It’s in a deep, dark place where hidden objects often go.
2) It’s in a place of pitch blackness.
3) You’re looking right at it. (He sat across the table from me.)
Regardless of these clues, Timmy simply could not figure out where his phone was, looking under the table, in the flag, in my black purse, and in my shoes. I was surprised that he missed the most obvious of places – my coat. I then began to wonder: “Is it simply because it’s so obvious, that he missed it?” This brought me back to our discussion of inattentional blindness, something I think Timmy perfectly demonstrated that night in Seacobeck.
An article in the Psychological Review refers to many incidents where people fail to notice stimuli appearing in front of their eyes when they are preoccupied with an attention-demanding task; the task Timmy in particular was preoccupied with was finding his missing cell phone. In this article, each study refers to incidents when people were so focused on one task, they missed another stimulus that may seem blatantly obvious to others. For example, there was an American naval submarine that slammed into a Japanese fishing vessel, killing nine crew members and students on board. When questioned, the crew in the sub all insisted that while quickly scanning the waters for enemies and other submarines, they had simply missed the fishing trawler. While this is a catastrophic example, one that certainly does not have a very clear correlation to Timmy’s search, it makes me think of how exactly he was searching for his cell phone. Instead of looking carefully and really thinking about the clues I gave him, he was scanning the area around where we were sitting very quickly, not lingering on any object. When thinking about this case of the submarine and traffic accidents where drivers missed seemingly obvious obstacles in their way, I am able to see how Timmy may have missed the obvious choice of my black coat.
Though Timmy admittingly does not have the best common sense in the world, I still don’t want to think that he simply did not even consider the fact that the phone in my pocket – in fact, the reason my friend hid the phone in my pocket was because she thought it would be the first place he would think of. As this article points out, there is a phenomenon within inattentional blindness, called implicit perception, that suggests that when people don’t consciously notice a stimuli, it still is encoded outside of their awareness, also determining their future behaviors. As Timmy did finally decide that I had it hidden somewhere in my coat (nearly half-an-hour later), this suggests that he had registered the existence of my coat in his consciousness, but didn’t access it until we practically gave away the location.
This experience of inattentional blindness in my everyday life was not only hilarious and slightly annoying, it further instilled in me an understanding of this concept, as well as a deeper understanding of the mind of my friend Timmy. I look forward to more times I can experience the concepts of cognitive psychology in real life!