Executive working memory load induces inattentional blindness

Psychon Bull Rev. 2007 Feb;14(1):142-7. doi: 10.3758/bf03194041.


When attention is engaged in a task, unexpected events in the visual scene may go undetected, a phenomenon known as inattentional blindness (IB). At what stage of information processing must attention be engaged for IB to occur? Although manipulations that tax visuospatial attention can induce IB, the evidence is more equivocal for tasks that engage attention at late, central stages of information processing. Here, we tested whether IB can be specifically induced by central executive processes. An unexpected visual stimulus was presented during the retention interval of a working memory task that involved either simply maintaining verbal material or rearranging the material into alphabetical order. The unexpected stimulus was more likely to be missed during manipulation than during simple maintenance of the verbal information. Thus, the engagement of executive processes impairs the ability to detect unexpected, task-irrelevant stimuli, suggesting that IB can result from central, amodal stages of processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Orientation*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Problem Solving*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Retention, Psychology
  • Serial Learning*
  • Speech Perception*
  • Verbal Learning*