This article is part of the Research Topic Brain Development and the Attention Spectrum

Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 23 April 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00229

I can see clearly now: the effects of age and perceptual load on inattentional blindness

  • 1Department of Psychology and Human Development, Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), Institute of Education, University of London, London, UK
  • 2Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, UK

Attention and awareness are known to be linked (e.g., see Lavie et al., 2014, for a review). However the extent to which this link changes over development is not fully understood. Most research concerning the development of attention has investigated the effects of attention on distraction, visual search and spatial orienting, typically using reaction time measures which cannot directly support conclusions about conscious awareness. Here we used Lavie’s Load Theory of Attention and Cognitive Control to examine the development of attention effects on awareness. According to Load Theory, awareness levels are determined by the availability of attentional capacity. We hypothesized that attentional capacity develops with age, and consequently that awareness rates should increase with development due to the enhanced capacity. Thus we predicted that greater rates of inattentional blindness (IB) would be found at a younger age, and that lower levels of load will be sufficient to exhaust capacity and cause IB in children but not adults. We tested this hypothesis using an IB paradigm with adults and children aged 7–8, 9–10, 11–12 and 13 years old. Participants performed a line-length judgment task (indicating which arm of a cross is longer) and on the last trial were asked to report whether they noticed an unexpected task-irrelevant stimulus (a small square) in the display. Perceptual load was varied by changing the line-length difference (with a smaller difference in the conditions of higher load). The results supported our hypothesis: levels of awareness increased with age, and a moderate increase in the perceptual load of the task led to greater IB for children but not adults. These results extended across both peripheral and central presentations of the task stimuli. Overall, these findings establish the development of capacity for awareness and demonstrate the critical role of the perceptual load in the attended task.

Keywords: perceptual load, inattentional blindness, development, attention, awareness, distractor, conscious perception

Citation: Remington A, Cartwright-Finch U and Lavie N (2014) I can see clearly now: the effects of age and perceptual load on inattentional blindness. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 8:229. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.00229

Received: 17 January 2014; Accepted: 31 March 2014;
Published online: 23 April 2014.

Edited by:

Itai Berger, Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center, Israel

Reviewed by:

Diane Beck, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, USA
Jane Couperus, Hampshire College, USA

Copyright © 2014 Remington, Cartwright-Finch and Lavie. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Anna Remington, Department of Psychology and Human Development, Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE), Institute of Education, University of London, 55-59 Gordon Square, London, WC1H 0NU, UK e-mail: a.remington@ioe.ac.uk

Back to top