Open-Eyed Blindness: Paying Attention To What’s On the Road.

Can we comprehend all that we see?  A recent study published in the journal i-Perception confronts this very question.  Union College psychology professor and study author Chris Chabris,, strapped video cameras to volunteers, told them to run after a test-subject jogger and remember what they saw during the chase.  What sounds like a giddy experiment turned out to be a revealing study.

Reported on by NPR’s Morning Edition, Chabris’ inspiration came from an unlikely source – a Boston police officer who, while chasing a suspect, ran past a brutal assault and was prosecuted for perjury when he claimed not to have seen it.Charbris’  look  into inattentional blindness, the failure to see visible and otherwise salient events when paying attention to something else, has profound implications not only in eyewitness testimony, but in everyday occurrences like driving.  In Charbis’ experiment, he found that only 35% of the subjects noticed a fight taking place as they ran toward the jogger.  That same inattentional blindness exists when driving distracted. Blind from seeing the consequences, drivers fail to realize that the multi-tasking-capable mind is not meant to multi-task under the high-risk conditions of driving.  As the study purports, at any given time, our working memory is limited to the amount of information it can hold and the number of operations it can hold.  In a nutshell, we have a limited cognitive load. The bad behaviors of pushing that cognitive load to its limit by texting, talking on a hands-free device, eating, or doing anything else while driving – but driving – has to stop. Understanding what’s happening on the road only 35% of the time is not what anyone can call responsible driving.

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