, Volume 74, Issue 7, pp 1391-1396

Fire drill: Inattentional blindness and amnesia for the location of fire extinguishers

Abstract

Fire extinguishers can save lives and are placed in locations that make them easily accessible and in plain view in case of an emergency. However, despite having viewed these bright red objects many times, people may be unaware of their precise locations or even of the fact that they have seen them so often in their workplace environment. We tested the ability of occupants of an office building to recall the location of the nearest fire extinguisher, as well as other objects (e.g., clock, drinking fountain). Despite years of exposure to it, a majority failed to remember the location of the nearest fire extinguisher, although they were able to locate it relatively quickly when asked to search for it. The results support an important distinction between seeing and noticing objects and reveal a novel form of inattentional amnesia for salient objects. The study also created an important learning event via failed retrieval, which could be essential to survival.