Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Dark Side of Visual Awareness in Sport: Inattentional Blindness in a Real-World Basketball Task

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

The Dark Side of Visual Awareness in Sport: Inattentional Blindness in a Real-World Basketball Task

Article excerpt

Most research in the field of decision making in sports has focused on the bright side of visual attention and has not taken the dark side of visual awareness into account. Understanding the costs of such inattention should be complementary to the study of how attention facilitates perception. In the present study, we provide evidence for the existence of inattentional blindness (IB) in a real-world basketball setting among adults (Experiment 1). In Experiment 2, we found that players with hardly any basketball experience were more likely to experience IB in a real-world basketball setting, as compared with experienced athletes. Improving the ecological validity of the setting by enhancing the perception-action coupling (Experiment 3) and increasing task difficulty (Experiment 4) did not appear to affect the occurrence of IB among experienced athletes. IB can be considered a limitation of the visual system, but it also highlights a critical aspect of visual processing, which allows us to remain focused on the important aspects of the world. But as is shown in the present experiments, it is possible to induce an attentional set-for example, by sport-specific instructions-that leads to players' missing important game-relevant information.

Since the performance of many sports, especially team ball games like basketball, soccer, water polo, field and ice hockey, and football, frequently requires concurrent performance of two or more skills (e.g., carrying the ball while visually scanning for teammates to pass to), understanding more about attention processes is essential to understanding performance in sports. Most research on decision making in sports has focused on the bright side of visual attention and has not taken the dark side of visual awareness, or inattention, into account (for an overview, see Abernethy, Maxwell, Masters, van der Kamp, & Jackson, 2007). This is unfortunate, since Abernethy (2001) referred to selective attention as a double-edged phenomenon in team ball sports; it is both a blessing, in terms of helping the player to overcome potential distractions, and a curse, in situations in which attention needs to be simultaneously divided. If attention is too easily disrupted, athletes might have difficulty completing their task goals.

On the other hand, however, if selective attention is too effective, important events might fail to reach consciousness. Understanding the costs of such inattention should be complementary to the study of how attention facilitates perception (Chun & Marois, 2002), also in the field of sport. Extreme selectivity does produce greater focus and efficiency but also can result in inattentional blindness (IB) for unexpected events (e.g., Mack & Rock, 1998; Simons & Chabris, 1999). The term inattentional blindness refers to the failure to detect an unexpected object or event if attention is diverted to another task or object, even if it is right in front of the observer. IB has been shown to be a highly robust finding in the field of psychology (Mack & Rock, 1998; Most, Scholl, Clifford, & Simons, 2005; Simons & Chabris, 1999), showing that participants tend to miss an unexpected event if their attention is engaged in some kind of attention-demanding task. Once participants start expecting unusual events, the latter become readily detectable. Therefore, this paradigm seems highly suitable and applicable for studying attention processes in the field of sports decision making-for example, to investigate the attentional benefits and costs of instructions from coaches or predetermined offensive plays in team sports.

It has long been known that humans have a limited information-processing capacity (for a review, see Broadbent, 1958; for a recent review, see Knudsen, 2007), and given the enormous amount of information that bombards players of team ball games, it becomes essential for performance efficiency that the most task-relevant (or pertinent) information should actually get processed preferentially. …

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