Looking but Failing to See Is Considered ‘Normal Blindness’

Routinely missing information that is “right in front of our eyes” is a phenomenon termed “looking but failing to see” (LBFTS) and is referred to as “normal blindness,” according to researchers from the University of Toronto Mississauga.

What to know:

  • People regularly miss important information that is right in front of their eyes. The LBFTS phenomenon ranges from overlooking small, simple items to those that some would consider “hard to miss.”

  • LBFTS is considered a form of “normal blindness.” Its errors point to a common mechanism underlying the failure to see the obvious, whether the missed item was unexpected in a clearly defined target of a visual search or the item was  missed while performing a mundane task.

  • LBFTS is the by-product of the limited-capacity prediction engine that is in our vision system and has evolved to allow us to move through the world with ease, virtually guaranteeing that we will miss some significant stimuli, especially in important tasks, such as driving and image perception.

  • Processes that serve us well in most circumstances are certain to produce a steady stream of LBFTS errors under some circumstances.

  • While normal blindness is less severe than clinical blindness, it is so universal that its costs are substantial at a societal level.

This is a summary of the article “Normal Blindness: When We Look but Fail to See,” published by Trends in Cognitive Science on July 21, 2022. The full article can be found on cell.com.

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