Inattentional Blindness & the paranormal

16th April 2020. Reading Time: 7 minutes General, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know. 1341 page views. 0 comments.

Sometimes what we are looking for is right in front of us, but we can't see it because we are too focused on something else! If we are too focused on that piece of equipment or too busy thinking of questions to ask etc, we may be missing something right in front of our eyes!

We are all out there searching for answers within the paranormal with our preconceived belief.  Some of us believe there is something more out there, while others believe there is not.  Those who believe usually look for evidence of something paranormal while those who do not believe are looking for the reasons it is not paranormal.  I have spoken on this blog a lot about how our beliefs affect our decision-making process.  A cognitive bias is an error in the way that we think.  It means we are not necessarily thinking with a 'clear mind'.  Our experiences, our beliefs, and our intentions all influence the way we think, the way we make decisions, and the way we interpret our surroundings.  Just the fact that we believe in the paranormal makes us bias.  It means we are more prone to 'self-fulfilling prophecy' where our brain is likely to interpret certain things to be paranormal when they are not.  We go in looking for the paranormal and our 'brain' makes us find it even if it is not really there.  At the other end, a full skeptic is also biased and will tend to look for a rational explanation discounting any sort of ambiguous event without even looking into the possibility it could be something we don't quite understand.  When we are out on an investigation, we become so focused on the task at hand that we can miss something that is right in front of us.  It is called inattentional blindness

Inattentional blindness 

Inattentional blindness was coined by Arien Mack and Irvin Rock based on the studies they completed throughout the 1990's and released their findings in their book 'Inattentional blindness' in 1998.  The research in this area of course had been happening for decades prior, but like many things, it wasn't given a proper name until the '90s.  In their testing, they would display a cross briefly on a computer screen and would ask the subjects to decide which arm of the cross was longer than the other.  After a certain amount of passes, they would include a brightly coloured rectangle.  When asked afterward if participants saw anything other than the cross, most did not even notice the rectangle because they were staring and focusing their attention on the cross.

An easy way to make a connection is when a person is driving.  You are focusing on the road or what speed you are going and you hit the car in front of you or an animal on the road.  They seemed to have come from nowhere or you use the phrase 'I didn't see it'.  They were always there, but your attention was focused elsewhere.

Here, I've got a quick task for you. Assuming aces are worth 11, quickly double the value of each card below and add them up.  The answer is 50, right? Well, yes but that's not the point. The point is that you probably missed the fact that the 4 of hearts is black. Assuming a passing familiarity with a standard deck of cards, you should know that all heart cards are red. But most people won't notice because they are busy doing some simple math.

Psychology Today

Inattentional blindness and the paranormal

When we go into an investigation, of course as investigators we want something to happen.  Why else would we be out here if nothing ever happened?  We want to experience that feeling, hear that voice, witness that shadow, whatever it is that piques our interest, we want to experience it on an investigation.  If we are regular visitors to a location, we may be used to certain activity happening in certain areas.  Maybe in one room you generally get better EVPs or in another room, you get more hits on a piece of equipment.  Usually, if you are on a tour, there is often a tour route that is followed where certain pieces of equipment are used in certain areas as they tend to get the best results.  We would all go into a room and start maybe an EVP session.  The group is focused on this EVP session.  People are thinking about what questions they are going to ask, they are thinking about how long it is until it is their turn to ask a question and then once their question is asked, how long until we can all listen back.  They are so focused on the task of completing an EVP session that they could be missing something happening or something trying to happen right in front of them.

Even just by listening to a spirit box session, for example, you are so focused on waiting for a voice that it can be very easy to become fixated or even sort of hypnotized by the sound of the white noise.  You could in fact be missing something coming through.  A lot of investigators will tell you that they often record their sessions to listen back later and they can often miss things.  I will be honest, in the past, I thought that there wasn't a lot of point in doing that because it is almost like saying well if you didn't hear it while you were there it didn't happen.  I was of the belief that if we didn't hear it at the time and instead we heard it at home on the recording, it was likely audio pareidolia from us wanting to hear a voice.  I have changed my view on this a little.  Regardless of what you believe when it comes to things like ghost boxes and if the voices are radio noise or something else, you do tend to notice more during playback because you are not so focused on the noise itself like you are during an investigation.  Perhaps the inattentional blindness is holding us back from really hearing what is happening at that particular time?

More and more people are starting to get that we don't need all the equipment to be able to do an investigation.  I'm not going to lie, I do enjoy some of the gadgets - even if some are for entertainment purposes but I do also often find that when I think something is happening, I am not just relying on one tiny flash on a piece of equipment.  Usually, there are all sorts of things happening at the same time.  It is though completely possible to go into an investigation with nothing but yourself.  Sit down, observe what is happening.  Write down your thoughts on a piece of paper.  Let things happen or let whatever it is you think is trying to get your attention to show you what they want to show you.  If we are too focused on that piece of equipment or too busy thinking of questions to ask etc, we may be missing something right in front of our eyes!

There is no sure-fire way to avoid inattentional blindness as like with many of the ways our brain processes information, it is how we are built.  Just being aware that you are capable of this is the first start.  Critical thinking is another good approach.  I have written about critical thinking in more detail which you can read about here:

Regardless of what you believe when it comes to the paranormal, it is important you leave those beliefs at the door.  Don't expect anything to happen while not expecting anything not to happen.  You have to go in with a clear and open mind.  Don't focus too much on the tech or the equipment in your hands.  Don't focus too intently on that EVP session you are running.  Don't listen too hard on that spirit box playing back.  Don't try too hard to find something paranormal, because you could indeed miss it.  If you are a person who is very skeptical, sometimes a person can be too busy trying to prove a point that they may in fact be missing a key piece right in front of them.  We often see what we want to see.  It can make us think things are happening when they are not, and it can make us miss them when they are.  Be open to the possibility that something is paranormal, but also open to the possibility that it is not.  Ultimately, we spend so much of our time as investigators trying to find something that could be with us all along.  Maybe we don't even need to go out into alledged haunted locations to find it.  Maybe we don't need the equipment.  We just need an open mind.


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