Since the 1990s, scientific studies on visual perception have demonstrated that people’s expectations, and their ability to focus, affects what they see.
It’s called “inattentional blindness”, and it’s important for drivers to be aware of it – particularly professional drivers like truckers.
Distracted driving means that a driver is not paying full attention to the single task of driving.
Inattentional blindness means that a person is missing critical information even when their eyes are focused on the road ahead.
In the initial study on inattentional blindness, researchers asked participants to watch images of a small cross flash briefly on a computer screen, and determine which arm of the cross was longer. After a few images, an unexpected object, like a brightly-colored rectangle, would appear on the screen with the cross.
Participants often failed to see the unexpected object because they were focused on the cross.
The study, and others like it, have demonstrated that having your eyes open doesn’t necessarily mean you’re seeing what is in front of you.
A test for inattentional blindness
This very short video is an excellent explanation of how inattentional blindness works.
Did you see it?
Steve Vaughn, the past president for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, says that professional truck drivers may be more susceptible to inattentional blindness than other drivers. Vaughn suggests that truckers should take steps to fight inattentional blindness, including taking cues from the surroundings.
Even though road signs may tell drivers what dangers to watch for—pedestrian crossings, stop sign ahead— the location and driving conditions also offer clues.
Forested rural roads mean deer – with or without the warning sign.
Agricultural areas mean animals or farm tractors.
City lights ahead signal the increased possibility of people wearing earbuds and looking at their cell phones crossing the street.
Refocusing attention when surroundings change can help truckers fight inattentional blindness. So can eliminating other distractions.
But to fight inattentional blindness, a professional driver needs to think about their own expectations in a given situation.
When your expectations change, so does your awareness. Watch the video again, and you can’t help but see the large moonwalking bear.
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