Out of Touch? Visual Load Induces Inattentional Numbness.

Research paper by Sandra S Murphy, Polly P Dalton

Indexed on: 15 Mar '16Published on: 15 Mar '16Published in: Journal of experimental psychology. Human perception and performance


It is now well known that the absence of attention can leave people unaware of both visual and auditory stimuli (e.g., Dalton & Fraenkel, 2012; Mack & Rock, 1998). However, the possibility of similar effects within the tactile domain has received much less research. Here, we introduce a new tactile inattention paradigm and use it to test whether tactile awareness depends on the level of perceptual load in a concurrent visual task. Participants performed a visual search task of either low or high perceptual load, as well as responding to the presence or absence of a brief vibration delivered simultaneously to either the left or the right hand (50% of trials). Detection sensitivity to the clearly noticeable tactile stimulus was reduced under high (vs. low) visual perceptual load. These findings provide the first robust demonstration of "inattentional numbness," as well as demonstrating that this phenomenon can be induced by concurrent visual perceptual load. (PsycINFO Database Record