, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 398-403

The effects of individual differences and task difficulty on inattentional blindness

Abstract

Most studies of inattentional blindness—the failure to notice an unexpected object when attention is focused elsewhere—have focused on one critical trial. For that trial, noticing the unexpected object might be a result of random variability, so that any given individual would be equally likely to notice the unexpected object. On the other hand, individual differences in the ability to perform the primary task might make noticing more likely for some individuals than for others. Increasing the difficulty of the primary task has been shown to decrease noticing rates for both brief static displays (Cartwright-Finch & Lavie, 2007) and dynamic monitoring tasks (Simons & Chabris, 1999). However, those studies did not explore whether individual differences in noticing arise from differences in the ability to perform the primary task. For our Experiment 1, we used a staircase procedure to equate primary task performance across individuals in a dynamic inattentional blindness task and found that the demands of the primary task affected noticing rates when individual differences in accuracy were minimized. In Experiment 2, we found that individual differences in primary task performance did not predict noticing of an unexpected object. Together, these findings suggest that although the demands of the primary task do affect inattentional blindness rates, individual differences in the ability to meet those demands do not.

Both authors contributed to the original ideas for the experiments. D.J.S. wrote the first draft of the manuscript, oversaw the design and implementation of the study, and contributed to the data analysis and the revision of the manuscript. M.S.J. conducted the study and contributed to the data analysis and revision of the manuscript.