My research program explores the mechanisms of attention, perception, memory, and thinking. The study of these topics falls into sub-division of psychology known as "visual cognition." My best known studies explore the limits of visual awareness and the many ways our intuitions about perception and attention diverge from the reality. My laboratory adopts methods ranging from real-world and video-based approaches to computer-based psychophysical techniques, and it includes basic behavioral measures, eye tracking, simulator studies, and training studies. This diversity of approaches helps establish closer links between basic research on the mechanisms of the mind and the practical consequences and implications of those findings in our daily lives. You can view many of the stimuli and demonstrations I have used in my research on this site's videos page
When people focus on a task that demands their attention, they often fail to notice unexpected objects and events that occur in full view. This phenomenon is known as "inattentional blindness" because people typically do not consciously perceive aspects of their world that fall outside of the focus of their attention. These events can be dramatic enough that the vast majority of people are convinced that they would notice. In reality, though, many people do not. In my best-known study of this phenomenon, Christopher Chabris and I asked subjects to watch a brief video of people passing basketballs and to count the total number of times the players wearing white passed the ball. In the middle of the video, a person wearing a gorilla suit unexpectedly walked through the scene. Although 90% of people are convinced they would notice the gorilla, only 50% actually do.The striking disconnect between what we think will grab our attention and what actually does has important theoretical and practical implications. In our general-audience book, The Invisible Gorilla
, Christopher Chabris and I explore some of the ramifications of this mistaken intuition about the mind (among many other similar mistaken intuitions). My inattentional blindness research addresses the following questions, among others:
- Do people differ in their ability to notice unexpected events?
- How do expectations contribute to noticing unexpected events?
- What is the relationship between the detection of expected events and the detection of unexpected events?
- How do our intuitions about attention differ from the reality?
- How does inattentional blindness contribute to real-world problems like distracted driving?
People fail to notice surprisingly large changes to their visual world when those changes occur during a brief moment of distraction. Under normal viewing conditions, changes to a scene produce a signal that can grab our attention. However, when that change signal is hidden by any sort of disruption (a flashed blank screen, an eye movement, a cut from one view to another in a movie), people can and do miss large changes. Critically, people are largely unaware of this limitation -- most people are convinced that they will notice changes that, in reality, few people do. We are aware of far less of our visual world than we think. My change blindness research addresses the following questions, among others:
- Do people differ in their ability to detect changes?
- How much information do people keep in mind when they fail to detect a change?
- What information do people notice and retain by default when looking at visual scenes?
- How much information can people perceive and remember from one moment to the next?
My research interests are broad, and in addition to my primary lines of research on the mechanisms of visual awareness, I have also conducted research on many other topics, including:
- driving and distraction
- chess expertise
- overconfidence among chess and bridge players
- pattern perception and explanations
- individual differences in attention and performance
- links between depression and attention
- the effects of videogames on cognition