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Do Elderly People See The Gorilla? Effects Of Aging On Inattentional Blindness

2044 words - 8 pages

In 1995, a Boston police officer responded to a 911 call regarding a shooting. Spotting a potential suspect he gave chase. During the pursuit the officer ran by an assault in progress without stopping to assist the victim. Later, he would claim that he never saw the assault because he was focused on chasing his suspect (Chabris, Weinberger, Fontaine & Simmons, 2011). This is an example of inattentional blindness or the failure to perceive objects or events when attention is focused elsewhere (Mack & Rock, 1998). Parents distracted by children, teenagers talking on cellphones and even professionals trained to be observant of their environment can fall prey to this phenomenon. Though people are not susceptible to inattentional blindness to the same degree, it is feasible that some may be less susceptible due to difficulties staying focused on a task at hand. This paper will examine the possibility that elderly people are less susceptible to inattentional blindness due to a decrease in attention skills.
Though the term “inattentional blindness” would not be conceived until 1998, the concept itself is not new. As cited by Simons and Chabris, Hungarian neurologist and psychiatrist Rezso Balint wrote in 1907 “It is a well-known phenomenon that we do not notice anything happening in our surroundings while being absorbed in the inspection of something…” (1999). Using the term “selective looking,” Ulric Neisser, an American psychologist, demonstrated this idea in 1979. In his study, he instructed subjects to count the number of times a group of participants threw a basketball to each other. While the subjects were focused on this attention demanding task, a woman with an umbrella walked in the middle of the participants. At the end of the demonstration, less than 45% of these subjects noticed the woman while those who did not count the number of ball passes had no difficulties perceiving her. Neisser surmised that because the subjects’ attention was focused on a given task they did not perceive the unexpected event of having a woman with the umbrella walk through the middle of the activity (Neisser, 1979).
In 1998, Arien Mack and Irvin Rock studied the relationship between visual perception and attention as well as the factors that affect it. In the initial part of their research, subjects were given various tasks to complete and were instructed to report when they noticed any unusual object or event known as a distractor. However, as their study progressed, Mack and Rock questioned how long it would take for subjects to notice distractors if they were not previously primed to look for them. To test this idea, they instructed subjects to look at a cross and determine which arm of the cross was longer. While subjects studied the cross, a distractor in the shape of a square or circle was flashed onto the screen. Once the task was completed, subjects were asked if they noticed anything unusual. Mack and Rock found that approximately 25%...

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