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What Is Inattentional Blindness

If you are like many people, you have no idea what inattentional blindness is. You might not have heard the phrase. Inattentional blindness is a real perceptive issue that is discussed widely today. It is important to you because it could be affecting your driving. Because April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month, this seems to be a good time to bring it to your attention.

In simplest terms, inattentional blindness is the failure to notice something unexpected within your field of vision because you are focused on something else – some distraction. In other words, you miss something that is right in front of you. It is important to everyone who operates a vehicle because the Department of Motor Vehicles is discussing it in the context of distracted driving.

What is Inattentional Blindness -- Altizer Law PC

Despite claims to the contrary, people cannot do more than one thing at a time and do it effectively. We might do two things at once and call it multi-tasking, but neither task is, in fact, being performed efficiently or effectively.

Can you really miss something that is right in front of you?

Yes, you can miss something that is right in front of you. Numerous tests and experiments have been conducted in the last 25 years to understand this concept of inattentional blindness. The concept of inattentional blindness was introduced in the book Inattentional Blindness by Arien Mack and Irvin Rock.

One of the studies showed participants a “film of two basketball teams, one wearing black shirts and the other wearing white. These displays were created such that all of the actors were partially transparent and thus could simultaneously occupy the same locations.” Participants in the study were asked to count the number of times the basketball was passed between members of the same team. They were instructed to ignore the other team.

While the participants were following the instructions, a woman walked through the scene carrying an open umbrella. The woman was visible in the film for several seconds. Yet many of the participants did not notice the woman’s presence at all. Later the same experiment was conducted with the exception that all of the players were opaque. This experiment was conducted over a range of conditions. In this study more than 25 percent of the participants failed to notice the woman with the umbrella.

In another experiment, a person in a gorilla suit replaced the woman with the umbrella. In addition, the person in the gorilla suit walked into the center of the basketball game, stopped and faced the camera, and thumped its chest before walking out of the scene. In this case, as well, many participants in the study did not notice the gorilla.

What does this have to do with you?

This phenomenon could have a great deal to do with you if you ever operate a motor vehicle. It is particularly important if you become distracted by shifting your focus while driving.

We have all heard (and possibly told) accounts of a vehicle accident in which the driver insisted that he or she simply did not see the deer that ran into the road. We have also heard accounts of a pedestrian being hit by a car and the driver insisting that s/he did not see the pedestrian.

Possibly more likely to occur is the accident that occurs while a driver is talking on the phone (even hands-free) and fails to notice that the car ahead is slamming on the brakes. The same thing can occur when we are trying to do two other things: driving and eating, driving and searching for a radio station, for example.

Ask yourself how often you have been doing two things at once and failed to notice something unexpected. Then ask yourself how often you talk on the phone while driving, or eat while driving, or any number of other things.


Although there are some who reject the notion of inattentional blindness, the idea has become mainstream. Our brains are not made to devote full attention to more than one thing at a time. When driving a vehicle, we place ourselves and everyone else on the road in danger when our attention is divided and we miss something in our field of vision due to inattentional blindness.

With regard to driving, we need to remember that distracted driving is considered as dangerous as driving drunk or drugged. It may be time for all of us to put aside the notion that we can do two things at once. Maybe we need to stop introducing distractions that we know can cause inattentional blindness and keep our focus on diving and what is happening on the road around us.

We should note that a great deal remains unclear about inattentional blindness in terms of how the brain processes unexpected things and how it recalls unexpected occurrences.

Call Altizer Law, P.C.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a distracted driver, you may have a right to seek financial restitution for your injuries and related costs. Call Altizer Law, P.C. and discuss your accident with us. We will help you to assess the event and liability for the accident. If there is justification for legal action, you may be assured that Bettina Altizer fights tenaciously and relentlessly for each client to seek justice and to obtain fair compensation for your hurts and harms.