Not quite so blind: Semantic processing despite inattentional blindness

J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform. 2016 Apr;42(4):459-63. doi: 10.1037/xhp0000205. Epub 2016 Jan 14.


We often fail to detect clearly visible, yet unexpected objects when our attention is otherwise engaged, a phenomenon widely known as inattentional blindness. The potentially devastating consequences and the mediators of such failures of awareness have been studied extensively. Surprisingly, however, hardly anything is known about whether and how we process the objects that go unnoticed during inattentional blindness. In 2 experiments, we demonstrate that the meaning of objects undetected due to inattentional blindness interferes with the classification of attended stimuli. Responses were significantly slower when the semantic content of an undetected stimulus contradicted that of the attended, to-be-judged object. We thus clarify the depth of the "blindness" caused by inattention, as we provide compelling evidence that failing to detect the unexpected does not preclude its processing, even at postperceptual stages. Despite inattentional blindness, our mind obviously still has access to something as refined as meaning. (PsycINFO Database Record

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Awareness*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Semantics*
  • Visual Perception*
  • Young Adult