Now You See It, Now You Don't: Investigating Inattentional Blindness
AbstractHave you ever taken notes from the chalkboard during class and not noticed what was going on around you? Or have you ever been so focused on a task that you haven't seen other people around you? In both of these cases, you were paying attention, but you were seeing without seeing! This is called inattentional blindness and it's the topic that you will investigate in this human behavior science fair project. If you are interested in how the human brains perceives information, then this might just be the human behavior science fair project for you!
Michelle Maranowski, PhD, Science Buddies
To investigate the psychological concept of inattentional blindness and to find out the percentage of a test population that displays this behavior.
Driving a car is hard work. You need to focus on the road, pay attention to the car's speed, watch out for traffic lights, and keep an eye out for what other drivers are doing around you. You are using your eyes to bring in information for your brain to process. This is called visual perception. Oftentimes, drivers concentrate on what they expect to see (like cars and street signs), and don't see what is actually there, like a fast-moving motorcycle or a deer standing in the road. The failure to see a fully visible, but unexpected, object because attention is focused on another task is called inattentional blindness. This term was coined in the 1990s by Arien Mack and Irvin Rock as a way to describe the results of their research. Their research showed that humans are capable of missing something very obvious in front of their eyes. Many accidents involving motorcycles and bicycles occur because a car driver didn't see the cyclist coming, even though they were looking right at him or her. Inattentional blindness and other failures in visual perception have left scientists with many questions. For example, how much information can our brains handle, consciously or unconsciously? Why do we notice some visual information and not other?
In this human behavior science fair project, you will investigate inattentional blindness. First you will take a video of some people playing basketball where something obvious and unexpected happens. Then you will ask a group of volunteers to watch the video and see how many people notice the unexpected event. Will everyone notice the unexpected event or will many people not notice it? Do females notice things more than males? This human behavior science fair project allows you peek into the human brain and investigate how it functions!
Terms and Concepts
- Visual perception
- Inattentional blindness
- Change blindness
- What is visual perception?
- How many different kinds of visual perception failures or "blindnesses" are there?
- From your research describe the difference between inattentional blindness and change blindness?
- Why is inattentional blindness of concern to airline pilots?
- Simons, D.J. (2007, May 14). Inattentional blindness. Scholarpedia, 2 (5): 3244, revision #47706. Retrieved September 24, 2009.
The following Wikipedia entry has good external links to check out.
- Wikipedia Contributors. (2009, September 18). Inattentional blindness. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved September 24, 2009.
For help creating graphs, try this website:
- National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). Create a Graph. Retrieved June 2, 2009.
Materials and Equipment
- Digital video camera and tripod
- Volunteers (7). The volunteers should be about the same height. Three of the volunteers should wear white T-shirts and light-colored pants and the other four volunteers should wear dark-colored T-shirts and dark-colored pants.
- Basketballs (2)
- Umbrella, dark colored
- Test subjects (at least 50). Do not include the seven volunteers described above in this group of test subjects. The test subjects should be older than 10 years. Try to have an even mix of females and males. You could recruit test subjects at your school, sports groups, your friends' schools, and ask parents of your friends.
- Television or screen in front of which the test subjects can watch a short video.
- Lab notebook
- Graph paper
Working with Human Test Subjects
There are special considerations when designing an experiment involving human subjects. Intel ISEF-affiliated (International Science and Engineering) fairs often require an Informed Consent Form for every participant who is questioned. Consult the rules and regulations of the science fair that you are entering, prior to performing experiments or surveys. Please refer to the Science Buddies documents Projects Involving Human Subjects and Scientific Review Committee for additional important requirements. If you are working with minors, you must get advance permission from the children's parents or guardians (and teachers if you are performing the test while they are in school) to make sure that it is alright for the children to participate in the science fair project. Here are suggested guidelines for obtaining permission for working with minors:
- Write a clear description of your science fair project, what you are studying, and what you hope to learn. Include how the child will be tested. Include a paragraph where you get a parent's or guardian's, and/or teacher's signature.
- Print out as many copies as you need for each child you will be surveying.
- Pass them out to the children or to the teachers of the children to give to the parents. You must have permission for all the children in order to be able to use them as test subjects.
Gathering Permission and Making the Test Video
While you wait to get permission to work with your test subjects, start making your test video.
- Go to your chosen site with the seven volunteers. They should all have their light- and dark-colored clothing on. Make sure that it is quiet and that there are not a lot of people there.
- Have six volunteers all stay within a small area, but one in which they can all move comfortably around, and start passing the basketball around. Once you are filming, the light volunteers in light colors should pass one basketball, and the volunteers dressed in dark colors should pass the other basketball. The volunteers don't need to be too far apart from each other, because they will need to catch the ball during the entire time of filming. You might want to have them all practice a few times before you film the actual clip.
- Set up the video camera and tripod. You should place the video camera and tripod such that you can capture all six of the volunteers moving around.
- Once you have recorded the volunteers passing the basketballs for 10 seconds, have the seventh volunteer (dressed in dark colors) walk directly through the scene, from left to right in the video camera view, carrying an open umbrella over his or her head. The volunteers passing the basketball and the umbrella-carrying volunteer should take care to move around each other without hitting each other.
- After the umbrella-carrying volunteer has exited the scene, continue to record the volunteers playing for another 5–7 seconds, and then stop recording.
Inattentional Blindness Testing
Prepare what you are going to say to your test subjects. Write what you are going to say on a piece of paper if you need to. Here is an example:
- Today I will be conducting a simple observational test. It is designed to highlight how males and females think. I will be showing you a video of six people passing a basketball. Three people are dressed in light clothes and they are passing a basketball between themselves. Your job in this test is to count the number of times they throw the basketball to each other. To make the task more challenging, there are also three people dressed in dark clothes who are passing a basketball. Ignore these people and just concentrate on counting the number of passes that the people in light clothes catch.
- Set up a viewing area with the television screen so that a test subject can watch the video comfortably. You can include a chair in the viewing area if you feel it necessary.
- Bring in one test subject to the viewing area and have him or her sit or stand in front of the television. Note: Do not use any of the seven volunteers who helped you make the video as a test subject.
- In your lab notebook, create a data table, like the one shown below. Assign each volunteer a number and also write down each volunteer's gender.
|Test Subject||Gender||Did He or She Notice Something Unusual?|
|Number of test subjects in group:|
- Ask the test subject to carefully listen to your speech that you wrote in step 1. Turn on the TV and the video and move to the side.
- Once the video has finished, ask the test subject how many passes the volunteers wearing light clothes caught. Then ask if he or she noticed anything unusual. If so, ask what he or she noticed. Record whether the test subject noticed the person moving across the screen with the umbrella in your lab notebook. Thank the test subject for participating in the experiment and let him or her go.
- Repeat steps 3–6 with each test subject until you have tested all of the test subjects.
Analyzing Your Data
- Count the number of test subjects who didn't notice anything unusual about the video. Record this data in your lab notebook, along with the number of people who did notice something unusual about the video.
- Plot the data on a graph. If you would prefer to make your plots online, use the following website: Create a Graph. Label the y-axis Number of Test Subjects. On the x-axis, label one bar Noticed Unusual Activity and another bar Did Not Notice Unusual Activity.
- From your data, did inattentional blindness affect your volunteers? What kind of conclusion can you make about how people see unexpected and expected objects?
Ask an Expert
- Separate and plot your data by gender. Is one gender more "blind" than the other?
- Does age affect inattentional blindness? Gather together a group of test subjects, separate them by age, and then redo the experiment.
- Have the test subjects count the total number of passes. Does this affect how many miss the unusual event?
If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers: