September 2021
Volume 21, Issue 9
Open Access
Vision Sciences Society Annual Meeting Abstract  |   September 2021
What we’ve been missing about what we’ve been missing: Above-chance sensitivity to inattentional blindness stimuli
Author Affiliations
  • Makaela Nartker
    Johns Hopkins University
  • Chaz Firestone
    Johns Hopkins University
  • Howard Egeth
    Johns Hopkins University
  • Ian Phillips
    Johns Hopkins University
Journal of Vision September 2021, Vol.21, 2909. doi:
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      Makaela Nartker, Chaz Firestone, Howard Egeth, Ian Phillips; What we’ve been missing about what we’ve been missing: Above-chance sensitivity to inattentional blindness stimuli. Journal of Vision 2021;21(9):2909.

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      © ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)

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Inattentional blindness—the failure to report clearly visible stimuli when attention is otherwise engaged—is among the most striking and well-known phenomena in psychology. But does inattention really render subjects “blind,” or do they see more than their reports suggest? Standardly, IB studies simply ask subjects whether they noticed anything unusual on the critical trial, treating anyone who says “no” as having failed to perceive the stimulus. Yet this yes/no measure is susceptible to bias. Subjects might respond “no” because they were under-confident whether they saw anything (or whether what they saw counted as unusual), because they doubted that they could identify it, etc. Here, we address this problem by modifying the classic IB paradigm to allow derivation of signal-detection measures of sensitivity and bias. Subjects’ primary task was to report which arm of a briefly presented cross was longer. In Experiments 1 and 2, the last trial included an unexpected stimulus. However, after the traditional yes/no question, subjects also answered a two-alternative forced-choice (2AFC) question, e.g., “Was the stimulus on the left or right?” or a forced-response question, e.g., “Was the stimulus red or blue?”. We found that subjects who reported not noticing the IB stimulus could nevertheless discriminate its features (e.g., color, location) well above-chance. In Experiment 3, only two-thirds of subjects were shown an unusual stimulus, providing a false-alarm rate with which to derive detection-theoretic statistics. Subjects also provided confidence ratings for their reports, allowing us to construct confidence-based ROC curves. As predicted, yes/no reports were conservatively biased (i.e., subjects tended to say “no”). Sensitivity did not differ significantly across yes/no and 2AFC tasks, suggesting that standard estimates of IB may be inflated by such biases. These results are consistent with a rarely discussed account of IB: Inattention does not abolish awareness; rather, it degrades it.


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