Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

How memory load leaves us 'blind' to new visual information

Date:
October 1, 2012
Source:
Wellcome Trust
Summary:
Trying to keep an image we've just seen in memory can leave us blind to things we are "looking" at, according to the results of a new study.

Trying to keep an image we've just seen in memory can leave us blind to things we are 'looking' at, according to the results of a new study.
Credit: Igor Mojzes / Fotolia

Trying to keep an image we've just seen in memory can leave us blind to things we are 'looking' at, according to the results of a new study supported by the Wellcome Trust.

It's been known for some time that when our brains are focused on a task, we can fail to see other things that are in plain sight. This phenomenon, known as 'inattentional blindness', is exemplified by the famous 'invisible gorilla' experiment in which people watching a video of players passing around a basketball and counting the number of passes fail to observe a man in a gorilla suit walking across the centre of the screen.

The new results reveal that our visual field does not need to be cluttered with other objects to cause this 'blindness' and that focusing on remembering something we have just seen is enough to make us unaware of things that happen around us.

Professor Nilli Lavie from UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, who led the study, explains: "An example of where this is relevant in the real world is when people are following directions on a sat nav while driving.

"Our research would suggest that focusing on remembering the directions we've just seen on the screen means that we're more likely to fail to observe other hazards around us on the road, for example an approaching motorbike or a pedestrian on a crossing, even though we may be 'looking' at where we're going."

Participants in the study were given a visual memory task to complete while the researchers looked at the activity in their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The findings revealed that while the participants were occupied with remembering an image they had just been shown, they failed to notice a flash of light that they were asked to detect, even though there was nothing else in their visual field at the time.

The participants could easily detect the flash of light when their mind was not loaded, suggesting that they had established a 'load induced blindness'. At the same time, the team observed that there was reduced activity in the area of the brain that processes incoming visual information -- the primary visual cortex.

Professor Lavie adds: "The 'blindness' seems to be caused by a breakdown in visual messages getting to the brain at the earliest stage in the pathway of information flow, which means that while the eyes 'see' the object, the brain does not."

The idea that there is competition in the brain for limited information processing power is known as load theory and was first proposed by Professor Lavie more than a decade ago. The theory explains why the brain fails to detect even conspicuous events in the visual field, like the man in a gorilla suit, when attention is focused on a task that involves a high level of information load.

The research reveals a pathway of competition in the brain between new visual information and our short-term visual memory that was not appreciated before. In other words, the act of remembering something we've seen that isn't currently in our field of vision means that we don't see what we're looking at.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Wellcome Trust. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Nikos Konstantinou, Bahador Bahrami, Geraint Rees, Nilli Lavie. Visual Short-term Memory Load Reduces Retinotopic Cortex Response to Contrast. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2012; 24 (11): 2199 DOI: 10.1162/jocn_a_00279

Cite This Page:

Wellcome Trust. "How memory load leaves us 'blind' to new visual information." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 1 October 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121001095900.htm>.
Wellcome Trust. (2012, October 1). How memory load leaves us 'blind' to new visual information. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121001095900.htm
Wellcome Trust. "How memory load leaves us 'blind' to new visual information." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121001095900.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins