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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Feb;143(1):33-7. doi: 10.1037/a0031407. Epub 2013 Jan 7.

The invisible man: interpersonal goals moderate inattentional blindness to African Americans.

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Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina.
Department of Psychology, University of Virginia.
Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia.


Research on inattentional blindness demonstrates that when attending to 1 set of stimuli, people often fail to consciously perceive a task-irrelevant object. In this experiment, we tested for selective inattentional blindness to racial outgroup members. We reasoned that some racial groups would be perceived as more relevant than others, depending on the interpersonal goal that was active. White participants were primed with interpersonal goals that ranged from psychologically distant (searching for a coworker) to psychologically close (searching for a romantic partner). In the control condition, no goal was explicitly activated. Then, participants watched a video of 2 teams passing a ball and were asked to count the ball passes of one of the teams. In the middle of the video, a Caucasian or an African American man walked through the scene. Participants were then asked to report whether they had seen the interloper. Results revealed that as interpersonal goals became closer to the self, participants were less likely to see the African American man. This research demonstrates a new form of social exclusion based on early attention processes that may perpetuate racial bias.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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