Inattentional Blindness: Cell Phone Use while Walking

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8th Jun 2018 Biology Reference this


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  • Holly Schwartz

How is walking affected by the use of cell phone created inattentional blindness?

In a case study conducted on the campus of Western Washington University in 2009, cell phone use was compared to those students walking alone or in pairs, in order to compare their attention to their surrounding environments. Prior to the experiment, it was already noted that cell phone users were 21.3% more likely to weave and 29.8% more likely to change direction, then stay on a straight path across the chosen square on the campus (Hyman, Boss, Wise, McKenzie, & Caggiano, 2009). The experiment took it further by incorporating a clown on a unicycle, adorned in purple clothing, large feet, and a red nose. As the students finished crossing the square, the interviewers asked two questions of them. First, if they had noticed anything out of the ordinary (Hyman, Boss, Wise, McKenzie, & Caggiano, 2009). Second, if there had been a clown (Hyman, Boss, Wise, McKenzie, & Caggiano, 2009). In this particular study, out of those using cell phones, only 25% had actually seen the gentleman on the unicycle (Hyman, Boss, Wise, McKenzie, & Caggiano, 2009). That would mean that at least 75% of those users experienced inattentional blindness as an effect of their use of cell phones (Hyman, Boss, Wise, McKenzie, & Caggiano, 2009). During their crossing, the weaving and changing of direction, as well as their slower gait, probably led to the blindness, as their attention was not focused in one direction. In fact, individuals who have divided their cognitive needs are generally unaware of their environmental stimuli. It is theorized that cell phone use drains “attentional resources”, which in turn leads to inattentional blindness (Hyman, Boss, Wise, McKenzie, & Caggiano, 2009).


Unicycling clown [Digital image]. (2013, July 3). Retrieved March 26, 2017, from‘inattentional-blindness’-oct-24

What are the effects of cell phone use while driving in reference to inattentional blindness?

Most people may agree on the fact that texting on a cell phone while driving is not conducive to a safe driving experience, either for the person driving or the general public around them. What is not generally agreed upon is the talking while driving, whether hands on or hands free. In American society, there is a common belief that a person can successfully multitask, when in reality this is not a successful endeavor if that person would like to accomplish all tasks at an optimal level. The brain cannot multitask well (National safety council, 2012). In the example of driving and talking on a cell phone, vision is greatly affected. While driving, the driver gathers most of their information through visual cues. Road signs, traffic signals, and other drivers, all give information to the person driving in order to make safe driving decisions. In recent studies of cell phone use and driving, statistics have shown that at least 50% of the visual information provided to drivers while under the influence of cell phone use, are both “looked at” but remain unseen (National safety council, 2012). This indicates cognitive distracted inattentional blindness occurs regularly among these users. It is contributed to an attentional withdrawal from visual information where the compensation of too much information to the brain is shown by the brain’s decision to to send some of that information to memory (National safety council, 2012). Since the information is not there, then the drivers are unaware that there was any information to begin with. The distracted drivers may look forward through the windshield, but their view is narrowed from the entire environment (National safety council, 2012).


Understanding the distracted brain [Digital image]. (2011, June 11). Retrieved March 26, 2017, from


Hyman, I.E., Boss, M., Wise, B.M., McKenzie, K.E., & Caggiano, J.M. (2009, October). Did You See the Unicycling Clown? Inattentional Blindness while Walking and Talking on a Cell Phone. Applied cognitive psychology, 24(), 597-607. doi:10.1002/acp.1638

National safety council. (2012). Understanding the distracted brain. Retrieved from

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