Sat nav driving blindness discovered

JESS LEE
Last updated 12:57 04/10/2012
Driving by Sat Nav
PETER MEECHAM/Fairfax NZ
INATTENTIONAL BLINDNESS: Drivers using sat navs could be blinded to dangers ahead of them.

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Drivers using sat navs could be blinded to dangers ahead of them, according to new research.

It found that trying to hold an image in the memory can make it more difficult to see things that are in plain sight.

The phenomenon, known as ''inattentional blindness'', could cause motorists focusing on remembering directions seen on a sat nav screen to fail to notice oncoming traffic or pedestrians crossing the road.

University College of London researchers asked a group of volunteers to detect a flash of light while their minds were occupied with remembering an image they had just seen.

The study, published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, showed that participants failed to notice the flash when their minds were occupied with the task, but could easily detect the light at other times.

Professor Nilli Lavie, who led the study, said the "blindness" seemed to be caused by a breakdown in visual messages getting to the brain.

"Whilst the eyes 'see' the object, the brain does not."

A famous example of the phenomenon, the "invisible gorilla" experiment, involved volunteers who were asked to concentrate on a group of players passing a basketball around.

While concentrating on the task, participants failed to notice a person in a gorilla suit walk across the screen.

Lavie said the results of this new study revealed that even without the distraction of several objects, focusing on remembering something we had just seen was enough to "blind" us.

"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 ... even though we may be 'looking' at where we're going."

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- Stuff

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