Does Using GPS Lead to “Inattentional Blindness”?
Trying to remember the details of something we have just seen diverts our attention away from what is currently in front of our eyes, resulting in an effect known as “inattentional blindness,” writes Nick Collins of the London Telegraph.
While our eyes continue to see things in their path, the visual messages seem not to reach the brain when we are concentrating on something else because its ability to process information is limited.
Collins describes a new study examining this phenomenon, and explores its implications for drivers using GPS maps:
“Researchers from University College London showed a group of volunteers images containing different colored squares and asked them to hold them in their mind, and told to expect a flash of light.
The study, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, showed that they were less likely to detect the flash when they were concerned with trying to remember the image than when their mind was unoccupied.
Scans of the participants’ brains as they carried out the task revealed a lower level activity in the brain region which processes incoming visual information while the patients were trying to recall the image.
Professor Nilli Lavie, who led the study, said: ‘An example of where this is relevant in the real world is when people are following directions on a sat nav whilst 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.’” (Read more here.)
Although we often mock the verbal instructions given by GPS systems, it seems likely that this aural information is less distracting to the driver than the visual information provided by a map.