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Are Threatening Unexpected Objects More Likely to Capture Awareness?

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posted on 10.05.2016, 16:50 authored by Cary StothartCary Stothart, Walter Boot, Daniel Simons, Tim WrightTim Wright

* We published a paper on this study that can be found at

We sometimes fail to notice unexpected objects or events when our attention is directed elsewhere, a phenomenon called inattentional blindness. Given that threatening objects tend to hold attention longer than non-threatening information, we explored whether unexpected but potentially dangerous objects might be noticed more often. Participants played an online video game in which they tried to dodge missiles that varied in their consequences based on their color; some missiles incurred a large cost and others a small cost. After 5 minutes, an unexpected object appeared and moved across the game screen. Participants (n=540) were somewhat less likely to notice the unexpected object when it shared the same color as the more threatening missiles (M=30%, 95% CI: [23%, 37%]) than when it shared the same color as the less threatening ones (38%, [32%, 46%]), p = .096. In a second experiment, participants (n=540) tried to collide with some missiles while dodging others. Noticing of the unexpected object was higher when it shared the same color as targeted missiles (56% [48%, 63%]) than avoided missiles (46% [38%, 53%]), although the difference again was not significant (p = .058). Taken, together, these studies suggest that the perceived danger or consequences of an unexpected object have relatively little effect on whether or not people will notice it.