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Selective looking and the noticing of unexpected events

An Erratum to this article was published on 01 May 1984


Subjects in a selective-looking paradigm (Neisser & Becklen, 1975) attended to one of two visually superimposed videotaped ballgames by responding every time the ball was passed in the target game. An unexpected, yet highly visually conspicuous, event, occurring about halfway through the l-rain game sequence, was noticed by only 18 of 85 subjects. Noticing was unrelated to the delay between the event and the posttrial inquiry, and explicit “iconic” instructions to describe the last image seen immediately after interruption proved ineffective in enhancing noticing rates, despite optimal visual conditions). Instead, noticing appeared to be related to the specific anticipatory possibilities within the attended sequence itself. Content analysis indicated that the latter part of the unexpected event sequence afforded greater anticipatory opportunities, and the findings suggested that noticers who were skilled at the main task were more likely to detect the event during this part, whereas unskilled noticers showed no such pattern. Results were consistent with and interpreted in terms of Neisser’s (1976) notion of the “perceptual cycle.”

Reference Notes

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    Neisser, U., & Rooney, P.Noticing unexpected events in selective looking: A new criterion. Unpublished manuscript, 1982.

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    Becklen, R.A method for determining percent on-target time in continuous attention experiments with varying target- and response-probabilities. Unpublished manuscript, 1983.


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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert Becklen.

Additional information

This study was supported in part by unrestricted research funds from the Department of Psychology, Oberlin College, and in part by a research grant to the first author from Oberlin College.

An erratum to this article is available at

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Becklen, R., Cervone, D. Selective looking and the noticing of unexpected events. Memory & Cognition 11, 601–608 (1983).

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  • Dichotic Listening
  • Posttrial Inquiry
  • Full Group
  • Partial Group
  • Game Sequence