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Atten Percept Psychophys. 2011 Aug;73(6):1780-9. doi: 10.3758/s13414-011-0144-4.

Visual perceptual load induces inattentional deafness.

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Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.


In this article, we establish a new phenomenon of "inattentional deafness" and highlight the level of load on visual attention as a critical determinant of this phenomenon. In three experiments, we modified an inattentional blindness paradigm to assess inattentional deafness. Participants made either a low- or high-load visual discrimination concerning a cross shape (respectively, a discrimination of line color or of line length with a subtle length difference). A brief pure tone was presented simultaneously with the visual task display on a final trial. Failures to notice the presence of this tone (i.e., inattentional deafness) reached a rate of 79% in the high-visual-load condition, significantly more than in the low-load condition. These findings establish the phenomenon of inattentional deafness under visual load, thereby extending the load theory of attention (e.g., Lavie, Journal of Experimental Psychology. Human Perception and Performance, 25, 596-616, 1995) to address the cross-modal effects of visual perceptual load.

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