When you fail to see what you were told to look for

Inattentional blindness and task instructions

Anne M. Aimola Davies*, Stephen Waterman, Rebekah C. White, Martin Davies

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    14 Citations (Scopus)


    Inattentional blindness studies have shown that an unexpected object may go unnoticed if it does not share the property specified in the task instructions. Our aim was to demonstrate that observers develop an attentional set for a property not specified in the task instructions if it allows easier performance of the primary task. Three experiments were conducted using a dynamic selective-looking paradigm. Stimuli comprised four black squares and four white diamonds, so that shape and colour varied together. Task instructions specified shape but observers developed an attentional set for colour, because we made the black-white discrimination easier than the square-diamond discrimination. None of the observers instructed to count bounces by squares reported an unexpected white square, whereas two-thirds of observers instructed to count bounces by diamonds did report the white square. When attentional set departs from task instructions, you may fail to see what you were told to look for.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)221-230
    Number of pages10
    JournalConsciousness and cognition
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • Attentional set
    • Colour discrimination
    • Inattentional blindness
    • Perceptual load
    • Selective-looking paradigm
    • Shape discrimination
    • Sustained inattentional blindness
    • Task instructions

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