When we focus intently on one task, we often fail to see other things in plain sight - a phenomenon known as ‘inattention blindness’. Scientists already know that performing a task involving high information load - a ‘high load’ task - reduces our visual cortex response to incoming stimuli. Now researchers from UCL have examined the brain mechanisms behind this, further explaining why our brain becomes ‘blind’ under high load.
“Engaging attention on a high load task has a strong effect on the brain’s response to the rest of the world,” says Professor Nilli Lavie of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. “It reduces both the level and precision, or ‘tuning’, of neural response to anything else around us that is not part of the task.
“These effects of load on neural response explain inattentional blindness. Although our environment hasn’t changed, the change in our brain response under load leads to inability to perceive otherwise perfectly visible stimuli outside our focus of attention,” she explains.
A new study by Professor Lavie and colleagues shows this effect for a most elemental process: orientation perception. “Different orientations provide the building blocks of shape perception. With a weaker and less precise brain response to these basic visual features, it’s impossible to form a coherent perception of the unattended environment.”
This is probably why I can study at Starbucks in spite of the ridiculous ambient noise