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3709 Trousdale Parkway, Los Angeles, CA 90089
"What do the inattentionally blind see?"
Inattentional blindness (IB) – the failure to notice perfectly visible stimuli when attention is otherwise engaged – has fascinated scientists and philosophers for nearly half a century. A key reason is that IB is thought to illuminate the relationship between attention and awareness, seemingly revealing that visual consciousness requires attention. In drawing such conclusions, a crucial assumption is that subjects who report not noticing an unexpected stimulus are truly unaware of it. But is this assumption secure? Here, in several experiments involving a total of over 10,000 participants, I'll present evidence that subjects who report not noticing an unexpected stimulus can still answer questions about it at above-chance levels. Moreover, through the inclusion of 'absent' trials in which no stimulus appeared, I'll further show that subjects in these experiments are biased to report not noticing, suggesting greater awareness than is revealed by yes/no questioning. Thus, and perhaps ironically, inattentional blindness in fact provides evidence that awareness of certain features survives inattention. Indeed, these results are consistent with a rarely discussed account of IB: Inattention does not abolish awareness, but rather degrades it.
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