When you fail to see what you were told to look for: Inattentional blindness and task instructions

Anne M. Aimola Davies, Stephen Waterman, Rebekah C. White, Martin Davies

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Inattentional blindness studies have shown that an unexpected object may go unnoticed if it does not share the property specified in the task instructions. Our aim was to demonstrate that observers develop an attentional set for a property not specified in the task instructions if it allows easier performance of the primary task. Three experiments were conducted using a dynamic selective-looking paradigm. Stimuli comprised four black squares and four white diamonds, so that shape and colour varied together. Task instructions specified shape but observers developed an attentional set for colour, because we made the black-white discrimination easier than the square-diamond discrimination. None of the observers instructed to count bounces by squares reported an unexpected white square, whereas two-thirds of observers instructed to count bounces by diamonds did report the white square. When attentional set departs from task instructions, you may fail to see what you were told to look for.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-230
Number of pages10
JournalConsciousness and Cognition
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Attentional set
  • Colour discrimination
  • Inattentional blindness
  • Perceptual load
  • Selective-looking paradigm
  • Shape discrimination
  • Sustained inattentional blindness
  • Task instructions

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