What is it about?

This publication is about understanding the beliefs that different legal populations hold about vision; specifically, what people notice and what they may fail to notice when their attention is focused on something else. We surveyed Australian police officers, lawyers, psychology students and community members about their knowledge of the phenomenon called "inattentional blindness" (failing to notice obvious and unexpected events when attention is focused elsewhere), and their beliefs about when this would occur.

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Why is it important?

In legal cases, individuals involved may have failed to notice something that was right in front of them when paying attention to something else. For example, witnesses may fail to notice crimes (and may need to give testimony in court); drivers may fail to notice hazards (and may be charged with reckless/dangerous driving); medical professionals might fail to notice abnormalities in patient scans (and may be charged with negligence). Because failing to notice visual events can be relevant to legal cases, it is important to get a sense of what different legal professionals who may work on such cases understand and believe about this experience.


This is the first survey that has considered the beliefs held by legal professionals about what people notice and under what circumstances. The findings suggest that, overall, legal professionals have a relatively good grasp about inattentional blindness and visual detection. However, they may have an incomplete knowledge about inattentional blindness (not fully understanding all of the components that contribute to it). Additionally, respondents commonly believed that individuals would notice legally-relevant events when the research that has been conducted so far suggests they would not. This work is a starting point for understanding how beliefs about what people notice and when may influence legal decision-making. Further research should be conducted to better understand how these beliefs translate to actual decision-making in legal contexts.

Hayley Cullen
Macquarie University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A survey of what legal populations believe and know about inattentional blindness and visual detection, PLoS ONE, January 2024, PLOS,
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0296489.
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