Mind & Society

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 1–18 | Cite as

Bounded awareness: what you fail to see can hurt you

  • Dolly ChughEmail author
  • Max H. Bazerman
Original Article



We argue that people often fail to perceive and process stimuli easily available to them. In other words, we challenge the tacit assumption that awareness is unbounded and provide evidence that humans regularly fail to see and use stimuli and information easily available to them. We call this phenomenon “bounded awareness” (Bazerman and Chugh in Frontiers of social psychology: negotiations, Psychology Press: College Park 2005).


We begin by first describing perceptual mental processes in which obvious information is missed—that is, simply not seen—by the visual perceiver. Inattentional blindness and change blindness are examples. We then extend this phenomenon to decision making and forecasting, using evidence about focalism to illustrate how people over focus on some information and fail to use other easily available information. We next examine how these processes of bounded awareness may extend to other important domains and across levels of analysis, such as information-sharing in groups, decision making in negotiators, and in competitive bidding situations such as auctions.


Bounded awareness is a phenomenon that encompasses a variety of psychological processes, all of which lead to the same error: a failure to see, seek, use, or share important and relevant information that is easily seen, sought, used, or shared.


Bounded awareness Focusing Focalism Winner’s curse Bounded rationality Inattentional blindness Change blindness 


  1. Abrahams M (1999) What is this Ig? is this ig.html (October 1, 2004)
  2. Akerlof G (1970) The market for lemons. Q J Econ 89:488-500CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Angelone BL, Levin DT, Simons DJ (2003) The relationship between change detection and recognition of centrally attended objects in motion pictures. Perception 32(8):947-962CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ball SB, Bazerman MH, Carroll JS (1991) An evaluation of learning in the bilateral winner’s curse. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 48:1-22CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bazerman MH, Chugh D (2005) Bounded awareness: Focusing failures in negotiation. In: Thompson L (eds) Frontiers of social psychology: negotiations. Psychology Press, College ParkGoogle Scholar
  6. Bazerman MH, Samuelson WF (1983) I won the auction but don’t want the prize. J Conflict Resolut 27:618-634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bazerman MH, Baron J, Shonk K (2001) You can’t enlarge the pie: six barriers to effective government. Basic Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Cain DM, Loewenstein G, Moore DA (2005) The dirt on coming clean: perverse effects of disclosing conflicts of interest. J Legal Stud 34(1):1-27CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Camerer C, Lovallo D (1999) Overconfidence and excess entry: an experimental approach. Am Econ Rev 89(1):306-318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carroll JS, Bazerman MH, Maury R (1988) Negotiator cognitions: a descriptive approach to negotiators’ understanding of their opponents. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 41(3):352-370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chugh D, Bazerman MH, Banaji MR (2005) Bounded ethicality as a psychological barrier to recognizing conflicts of interest. In: Moore DA, Cain DM, Loewenstein G, Bazerman MH (eds) Conflicts of interest: problems and solutions from law, medicine and organizational settings. Cambridge University Press, London, pp 74-95Google Scholar
  12. Fox CR, Tversky A (1998) A belief-based account of decision under uncertainty. Manage Sci 44(7):879-895CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Friedman D (1998) Monty Hall’s three doors: construction and deconstruction of a choice anomaly. Am Econ Rev 88(4):933-946Google Scholar
  14. Gilbert DT, Wilson TD (2000) Miswanting: some problems in the forecasting of future affective states. In: Forgas JP (ed) Feeling and thinking: the role of affect in social cognition. Series: Studies in emotion and social interaction. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 178-197Google Scholar
  15. Gino F, Bazerman MH (2005) Slippery slopes and misconduct: the effect of gradual degradation on the failure to notice unethical behavior. Harvard Business School working paper 06-019Google Scholar
  16. Grosskopf B, Bereby-Meyer Y (2005) Overcoming the winner’s curse: an adaptive learning perspective. Working paperGoogle Scholar
  17. Gruenfeld D, Mannix EA, Williams KY, Neale MA (1996) Group composition and decision making: How member familiarity and information distribution affect process and performance. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 67:1-15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Johansson P, Hall L, Olsson A, Sikstrom S (2004) From change blindness to choice blindness. In: Paper for the conference toward a science of consciousness conference, April 7-11, TucsonGoogle Scholar
  19. Mack A (2003) Inattentional blindness: looking without seeing. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 12(5):180-184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Mack A, Rock I (1998) Inattentional blindness. Series: Bradford books series in cognitive psychology. The MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  21. Massey C, Wu G (2005) Detecting regime shifts. Manage Sci 51(6):932-947CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Messick DM, Moore DA, Bazerman MH (1997) Ultimatum bargaining with a group: underestimating the importance of the decision rule. Organ Behav Hum Decis Process 69(2):87-101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Mitroff SR, Simons DJ, Franconeri SL (2002) The siren song of implicit change detection. J Exp Psychol Human Percept Perform 28:798-815CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Moore DA (2000) The unexpected benefits of negotiating under time pressure. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Northwestern University, EvanstonGoogle Scholar
  25. Moore CM, Egeth H (1997) Perception without attention: Evidence of grouping under conditions of inattention. J Exp Psychol Human Percept Perform 23(2):339-352CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Moore DA, Kim TG (2003) Myopic social prediction and the solo comparison effect. J Pers Soc Psychol 85(6):1121-1135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Moore DA, Small DA (2004) Error and bias in comparative social judgment: On being both better and worse than we think we are. Tepper working paper 2004-E1, PittsburghGoogle Scholar
  28. Moore DA, Cain DM, Loewenstein G, Bazerman MH (eds) (2005) Conflicts of interest: Challenges and solutions in business, law, medicine, and public policy. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  29. Nalebuff B (1987) Puzzles: Choose a curtain, duel-ity, two point conversions, and more. J Econ Perspect 1(1):157-163Google Scholar
  30. Neisser U (1979) The concept of intelligence. Intelligence 3(3):217-227CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Samuelson WF, Bazerman MH (1985) Negotiating under the winner’s curse. In: Smith V (ed) Research in experimental economics, vol 3. JAI Press, Greenwich CT, pp 105-137Google Scholar
  32. Schkade DA, Kahneman D (1998) Does living in California make people happy? A focusing illusion in judgments of life satisfaction. Psychol Sci 9(5):340-346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Selvin S (1975) Letter to the editor. Am Stat 29:67Google Scholar
  34. Simon HA (1983) Reason in human affairs. Stanford University Press, Stanford CAGoogle Scholar
  35. Simons DJ (2000) Current approaches to change blindness. Visual Cogn 7(1-3):1-15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Simons DJ, Chabris CF (1999) Gorillas in our midst: Sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception 28(9):1059-1074CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Simons DJ, Levin D (2003) What makes change blindness interesting? In: Irwin DE Ross BH (eds) The psychology of learning and motivation. Academic, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  38. Simons DJ, Chabris CF, Schnur T, Levin DT (2002) Evidence for preserved representations in change blindness. Conscious Cogn 11(1):78-97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stasser G (1988) Computer simulation as a research tool: the DISCUSS model of group decision making. J Exp Soc Psychol 24:393-422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stasser G, Stewart D (1992) Discovery of hidden profiles by decision-making groups: solving a problem versus making a judgment. J Pers Soc Psychol 63(3):426-434CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stasser G, Titus W (1985) Pooling of unshared information in group decision making: biased information sampling during discussion. J Pers Soc Psychol 48:1467-1478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Tenbrunsel AE, Messick DM (2004) Ethical fading: the role of self deception in unethical behavior. Soc Justice Res 17(2):223-236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Thaler R (2000) From Homo economicus to Homo sapiens. J Econ Perspect 14:133-141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Tor A, Bazerman MH (2003) Focusing failures in competitive environments: explaining decision errors in the Monty Hall game, the Acquiring a Company problem, and multi-party ultimatums. J Behav Decis Making 16(5):353-374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Tversky A, Kahneman D (1974) Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science 185:1124-1130CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Tversky A, Koehler DJ (1994) Support theory: a nonextensional representation of subjective probability. Psychol Rev 101:547-567CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Valley KL, Moag JS, Bazerman MH (1998) A matter of trust: effects of communication on the efficiency and distribution of outcomes. J Econ Behav Organ 34:211-238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vaughn D (1996) The challenger launch decision: risky technology, culture, and deviance at NASA. University of Chicago, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  49. vos Savant M (1990a) Ask Marilyn. Parade Magazine, September 9Google Scholar
  50. vos Savant M (1990b) Ask Marilyn. Parade Magazine. December 2Google Scholar
  51. vos Savant M (1991) Ask Marilyn. Parade Magazine. February 17Google Scholar
  52. Wilson TD, Wheatley T, Meyers JM, Gilbert DT, Axsom D (2000) Focalism: a source of durability bias in affective forecasting. J Pers Soc Psychol 78(5):821-836CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Fondazione Rosselli 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Stern School of BusinessNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Harvard UniversityBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations