Current Psychology

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 733–739 | Cite as

Detection of Threats under Inattentional Blindness and Perceptual Load

  • Hua Gao
  • Zhuowang Jia


Inattentional blindness refers to the failure to detect the salient unexpected stimuli in one’s visual field when performing an attention-demanding task. The present study examined the detection of threats in a static inattentional blindness paradigm. And the detection rates of evolutionary and ontogenetic threats were compared. Participants counted the number of color words from among three (low load) or six (high load) items presented in a circular array. On the last of six trials, an unexpected threatening/neutral illustration was presented in the center of the array along with the task stimuli. Participants detection of the illustration were thus measured and analyzed. The results suggested that: (1) the threatening stimuli, both evolutionary and ontogenetic, were detected more frequently than non-threatening stimuli; (2) the unexpected illustrations were identified more frequently under low-load condition than under high-load condition; (3) even under high-load situation, the threatening illustrations were more frequently identified than neutral ones. Threats are more likely to be detected under inattentional blindness and perceptual load.


Threat detection bias Inattentional blindness Perceptual load Load theory 



We appreciate the two anonymous reviewers for their comments on the early version of this work.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Conflict of Interest

There is no conflict of interest.


  1. Aucote, H. M., Miner, A., & Dahlhaus, P. (2012). Interpretation and misinterpretation of warning signage: Perceptions of rockfalls in a naturalistic setting. Psychology, Health and Medicine, 17(5), 522–529.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Bates, E., D’Amico, S., Jacobsen, T., Székely, A., Andonova, E., Devescovi, A.,.. . Tzeng, O. (2003). Timed picture naming in seven languages. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 10(2), 344–380.Google Scholar
  3. Beanland, V., & Chan, E. H. (2016). The relationship between sustained inattentional blindness and working memory capacity. Attention, Perception, & Psychophysics, 78(3), 808–817. doi: 10.3758/s13414-015-1027-x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blanchette, I. (2006). Snakes, spiders, guns, and syringes: how specific are evolutionary constraints on the detection of threatening stimuli? Q J Exp Psychol (Hove) 59(8), 1484–1504.Google Scholar
  5. Boyer, P., & Bergstrom, B. (2011). Threat-detection in child development: An evolutionary perspective. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 35(4), 1034–1041.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, C., El-Deredy, W., & Blanchette, I. (2010). Attentional Modulation of Visual-Evoked Potentials by Threat: Investigating the Effect of Evolutionary Relevance. Brain and Cognition, 74(3), 281–287.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Brown-Iannuzzi, J. L., Hoffman, K. M., Payne, B. K., & Trawalter, S. (2014). The invisible man: Interpersonal goals moderate inattentional blindness to African Americans. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 143(1), 33–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Calvillo, D. P., & Jackson, R. E. (2014). Animacy, perceptual load, and inattentional blindness. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 21(3), 670–675. doi: 10.3758/s13423-013-0543-8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Calvo, M., Avero, P., & Lundqvist, D. (2006). Facilitated detection of angry faces: Initial orienting and processing efficiency. Cognition and Emotion, 20(6), 785–811.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chabris, C. F., Weinberger, A., Fontaine, M., & Simons, D. J. (2011). You do not talk about fight Club if you do not notice fight Club: inattentional blindness for a simulated real-world assault. Iperception, 2(2), 150–153. doi: 10.1068/i0436.PubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Coker-Appiah, D. S., White, S. F., Clanton, R., Yang, J., Martin, A., & Blair, R. J. R. (2013). Looming animate and inanimate threats: The response of the amygdala and periaqueductal gray. Social Neuroscience, 8(6), 621–630.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  12. DeLoache, J. S., & LoBue, V. (2009). The narrow fellow in the grass: human infants associate snakes and fear. Developmental Science, 12(1), 201–207.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Fox, E., Griggs, L., & Mouchlianitis, E. (2007). The detection of fear-relevant stimuli: are guns noticed as quickly as snakes? Emotion, 7(4), 691–696. doi: 10.1037/1528-3542.7.4.691.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  14. Giesbrecht, B., Sy, J., Bundesen, C., & Kyllingsbaek, S. (2014). A new perspective on the perceptual selectivity of attention under load. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1316(1), 71–86. doi: 10.1111/nyas.12404.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Hughes-Hallett, A., Mayer, E. K., Marcus, H. J., Pratt, P., Mason, S., Darzi, A. W., et al. (2015). Inattention blindness in surgery. Surgical Endoscopy, 29(11), 3184–3189. doi: 10.1007/s00464-014-4051-3.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Hyman Jr., I. E., Sarb, B. A., & Wise-Swanson, B. M. (2014). Failure to see money on a tree: inattentional blindness for objects that guided behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 356. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00356.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  17. Koivisto, M., & Revonsuo, A. (2009). The effects of perceptual load on semantic processing under inattention. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16(5), 864–868. doi: 10.3758/PBR.16.5.864.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kreitz, C., Furley, P., Memmert, D., & Simons, D. J. (2015). Inattentional blindness and individual differences in cognitive abilities. PloS One, 10(8), e0134675. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0134675.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  19. Lavie, N. (1995). Perceptual load as necessary condition for selective attention. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 21(3), 451.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Lavie, N., Hirst, A., de Fockert, J. W., & Viding, E. (2004). Load theory of selective attention and cognitive control. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, 133(3), 339–354. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.133.3.339.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Liu, Y., Shu, H., & Li, P. (2007). Word naming and psycholinguistic norms: Chinese. Behavior Research Methods, 39(2), 192–198.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. LoBue, V. (2010). What's so scary about needles and knives? Examining the role of experience in threat detection. Cognition & Emotion, 24(1), 180–187. doi: 10.1080/02699930802542308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. LoBue, V. (2014). Deconstructing the snake: the relative roles of perception, cognition, and emotion on threat detection. Emotion, 14(4), 701–711. doi: 10.1037/a0035898.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. LoBue, V., & Rakison, D. H. (2013). What we fear most: a developmental advantage for threat-relevant stimuli. Developmental Review, 33(4), 285–303. doi: 10.1016/j.dr.2013.07.005.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. LoBue, V., Matthews, K., Harvey, T., & Stark, S. L. (2014). What accounts for the rapid detection of threat? Evidence for an advantage in perceptual and behavioral responding from eye movements. Emotion, 14(4), 816–823. doi: 10.1037/a0035869.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Mack, A., & Rock, I. (1998). Inattentional blindness. Cambridge: MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  27. Martin, M.-L. C., Mentzelb, H.-J., Miltnera, W. H. R., & Straubec, T. (2013). Amygdala activation to fearful faces under attentional load. Behavioural Brain Research, 172–175.Google Scholar
  28. Murphy, G., & Greene, C. M. (2015). High perceptual load causes inattentional blindness and deafness in drivers. Visual Cognition, 23(7), 810–814. doi: 10.1080/13506285.2015.1093245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nairne, J. S., Thompson, S. R., & Pandeirada, J. N. (2007). Adaptive memory: survival processing enhances retention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 33(2), 263–273.Google Scholar
  30. Norberg, J., Peira, N., & Wiens, S. (2010). Never mind the spider: Late positive potentials to phobic threat at fixation are unaffected by perceptual load. Psychophysiology, 47(6), 1151–1158.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. Öhman, A., Lundqvist, D., & Esteves, F. (2001). The face in the crowd revisited: a threat advantage with schematic stimuli. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 80(3), 381–396.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Pammer, K., Bairnsfather, J., Burns, J., & Hellsing, A. (2015). Not all hazards are created equal: the significance of hazards in inattentional blindness for static driving scenes. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 29(5), 782–788. doi: 10.1002/acp.3153.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Remington, A., Cartwright-Finch, U., & Lavie, N. (2014). I can see clearly now: the effects of age and perceptual load on inattentional blindness. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 229. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00229.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  34. Reynolds, M. G., Eastwood, J. D., Partanen, M., Frischen, A., & Smilek., D. (2009). Monitoring eye movements while searching for affective faces. Visual Cognition, 17(3), 318–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Richards, A., Hellgren, M. G., & French, C. C. (2014). Inattentional blindness, absorption, working memory capacity, and paranormal belief. Psychology of Consciousness: Theory, Research, and Practice, 1(1), 60–69.Google Scholar
  36. Simons, D. J., & Chabris, C. F. (1999). Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. Perception, 28(9), 1059–1074.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Snodgrass, J. G., & Vanderwart, M. (1980). <a standardized set of 260 pictures norms for name agreement, image agreement, familiarity, and visual complexity >. Journal of Experimental Psychology Human Learning & Memory, 6(2), 174–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Soares, S. C., & Esteves, F. (2013). A glimpse of fear: fast detection of threatening targets in visual search with brief stimulus durations. Psych J, 2(1), 11–16. doi: 10.1002/pchj.18.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Wheaton, M. G., Fitzgerald, D. A., Phan, K. L., & Klumpp, H. (2014). Perceptual load modulates anterior cingulate cortex response to threat distractors in generalized social anxiety disorder. Biological Psychology, 101, 13–17.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  40. Wolfe, J. M. (1999). Inattentional amnesia. In I. V. C. (Ed.) (Ed.), Fleeting memories (pp. 71–94). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  41. Yang, J., Bellgowan, P. S. F., & Martin, A. (2012). Threat, domain-specificity and the human amygdala. Neuropsychologia, 50(11), 2566–2572.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  42. Yuan, L., Ma, Y.-f., Lei, Z.-y., & Xu, P. (2014). Driver’s comprehension and improvement of warning signs. Advances in Mechanical Engineering. 1-9. doi: 10.1155/2014/582606.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fujian Normal University (Qishan Area)FuzhouChina

Personalised recommendations