Did you catch that? In episode 66, Katherine Wood from the University of Illinois discusses her research with the scientist behind the famous “Invisible Gorilla” experiments, Daniel Simons, into if and when people notice unexpected objects in inattentional blindness tasks. She discusses her and Simons’ article “Now or never: Noticing occurs early in sustained inattentional blindness” which they published on November 20, 2019 in the open-access journal Royal Society Open Science

Hiding in Plain Sight - Katherine Wood
Hiding in Plain Sight - Katherine Wood
Hiding in Plain Sight - Katherine Wood Hiding in Plain Sight - Katherine Wood
@rwatkins says:
Next time, in episode 67 of Parsing Science, we’ll be joined by Temple Grandin from Colorado State University’s Department of Animal Sciences. She’ll talk with us about her work translating academic studies of ethology and animal behavior for practical application in commercial livestock and poultry farms.
@rwatkins says:
Inattentional blindness isn’t just a laboratory curiosity … it can also happen in the real world and under more natural conditions. When our attention is focused, we may never know what happened in our attentional blind-spots, such as a bike nearly running into us as we walk down the sidewalk engrossed with our mobile phone. Since Ryan and I are routinely overconfident in our ability to multi-task, we were curious to learn how Katherine anticipates her research might be applied.
@rwatkins says:
Katherine and Dan’s study is somewhat rare in psychology research in that they report their statistical findings using confidence intervals rather than the more ubiquitous – and contentious – p-value. In fact, the paper makes no use of the word "significant" at all. So Doug and I were interested to hear what led to this decision.
@rwatkins says:
Over the years, Ryan and I have had several researchers onto the show who study illusion. But it didn’t occur to me until our conversation with Katherine that most illusions operate on our misperceptions such that we perceive the presence of something that’s not there … and that inattentional blindness is perhaps more like the illusion of the absence of something. Curious, we asked Katherine about her thoughts on this analogy.
@rwatkins says:
Do people who have longer exposure to an unexpected object also have a better mental representation of its features? That is, even though additional time exposure didn’t substantially affect people’s noticing rates, Katherine and Dan were curious if it affects how much information about the unexpected object noticers are able to extract. So these questions were those that guided their third and final experiment, as Katherine describes next.
@rwatkins says:
Altmetric Podcast. Since simply detecting the unexpected object doesn’t guarantee that people could describe it accurately, Katherine and Dan were curious to learn if increasing the exposure time might allow noticers to form a more accurate representation of the unexpected object’s location. To find out, their second experiment addressed whether exposure time impacts how well participants were able to estimate the unexpected objects’ location when it onset from either edge of the display and offset in the middle, versus when it onset near the middle and offset at either edge. Here again is Katherine Wood, describing what they found in their second experiment.
@rwatkins says:
In their second experiment, Katherine and Dan were interested in comparing what difference it might make if an unexpected object were to onset at the far left versus the far right edge of the display. They also measured the degree to which participants misreported the location of the object even more precisely, as Katherine describes next.
@rwatkins says:
Does increasing the time we’re exposed to an unexpected object also increase the likelihood that it is noticed? That’s the question that Katherine and Dan set out to answer in the first of their three experiments. Here’s how Katherine describes the process of designing this experiment.
@rwatkins says:
You can demo the games Katherine and Dan used in their experiments at parsing science dot com slash e66. If you’d like to play them you might want to do that now because - spoiler alert - we’re going to talk about their artifice moving forward. For everyone else, the “unexpected object” in Katherine and Dan’s experiments is a small plus sign that moves across a screen while participants are busy with a sham task of counting the number of times various moving shapes bounced off a screen. You’d probably think that - if given enough time - you’d almost never fail to notice the plus sign in inattentional blindness tasks like this. And that was something that Katherine and Dan wanted to find out as well. But they were also interested in learning when, if at all, participants noticed the unexpected object - be it when it first appears, or just before disappearing - as well as whether it being on the screen for a longer amount of time increases people’s noticing, or if we just notice unexpected objects randomly.
@rwatkins says:
The notion of “inattentional blindness” was coined in 1992 by Arien Mack from the New School for Social Research and Irvin Rock from the University of California in Berkeley … so it’s been around for quite some time. But, despite being familiar with the concept, Ryan and I both missed the gorilla at first, just like many of our students have. This led us to wonder: how can it be that we’re so confident going into such tasks, even when we know that inattentional blindness exists.
@rwatkins says:
If you haven’t already seen Dan Simons’ selective attention experiment, you might want to pause this episode and head to parsing science dot org slash E66 to watch it now. It’s just a minute or so long. [Doug and I have shown it to several cohorts of graduate classes, and it's almost always had the same effect: by-in-large people miss what's right in front of their faces. Doug and I asked Katherine to describe her experience with the video.
@rwatkins says:
For a while now, I've thought of "distraction" as just another form of attention … but to something that we didn't intend ... to attend to. So I was glad to have the chance to ask Katherine – whose research focus is in attention and failures of awareness – if this is more or less right.
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Hosts / Producers

Doug Leigh & Ryan Watkins

How to Cite

Leigh, D., Watkins, R., & Wood, K.. (2020, January 21). Parsing Science – Hiding in Plain Site. figshare. https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.11691765

Music

What’s The Angle? by Shane Ivers

Transcript

Katherine Wood: If we want to enhance the subset of information we’re hoping to attend to we have to turn down the volume on all of the irrelevant information.

Doug Leigh: This is Parsing Science, the unpublished stories behind the world’s most compelling science, as told by the researcher themselves. I’m Doug Leigh.

Ryan Watkins: And I’m Ryan Watkins. Today, in episode 66 of Parsing Science, we’re joined by Katherine Wood from the University of Illinois’ Department of Psychology. She’ll talk with us about her research with Daniel Simons into if – and when – people notice unexpected objects in their visual field when they’re focused on other tasks.

Wood: Hi, I am Katherine Wood. I am in my final year of my doctoral studies at the University of Illinois. I was born and raised in Sacramento, California, and I went to University of California Berkeley for my undergrad degree. I did that degree in psychology, and got my first exposure to research in Dr. David Whitney’s lab. I fell in love with the process and all of its highs and lows, and when I was applying to graduate schools and looking at advisors that I wanted to work with I focused mostly on their areas of research, and vetting whether those areas lined up with my interests. And there was one faculty member at the University of Illinois who just seemed like a complete perfect fit with his areas of interest: what he was interested in, what I was interested in. And I was like, “Perfect! I’m gonna shoot him an email, introduce myself, explain my areas of interest, and see if he is taking students.” And it was only later after I had sent that email that I realized I had sent it to the Daniel Simons, who first did that Invisible Gorilla experiment. And I had a bit of a moment of panic: “Oh my god! I emailed Daniel Simons and asked if he was taking students. What do I think I’m doing?” But we hit it off right away, and we were interested in a lot of the same things. He’s an advisor with a really broad array of interests. And I also love studying attention and vision from a bunch of different angles, and so he ended up being a perfect person to work with to pursue my sometimes-unorthodox approaches to experiments. So I moved to Illinois right after undergrad to start working with Dan, where I have been ever since.

Leigh: For a while now, I’ve thought of “distraction” as just another form of attention, but toward something that we didn’t intend … to attend to. So I was glad to have the chance to ask Katherine – whose research focus is in attention and failures of awareness – if this is more or less right.

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