June 10, 2016
Ensuring the safety of children is a responsible and demanding task. This is particularly true when it comes to inquisitive young toddlers—who often have an instinct for trouble and no sense of fear! As a consequence, the homes of many young families are often decked out with all sorts of ingenious devices to help prevent unwary children from coming to any harm: from stair gates and socket covers to intercom systems and CCTV. However, despite these precautions, accidents can still happen. Therefore, spotting an accident, before it happens, is an important skill for any parent, nanny or childcarer. This requires high levels of vigilance at all times. But, with the increasing use of smartphones and other mobile technology, levels of vigilance are in decline. For this reason, the Child Accident Prevention Trust has made technology the focus of this year’s Child Safety Week (6-12 June 2016): Turn off Technology for Safety.
When it comes to spotting unexpected dangers, some people are more perceptive than others. This was rather humorously demonstrated in a recent scientific study, using six basketball players and a man in a gorilla suit. In a series of experiments, 197 subjects were asked to count the number of times the basketball was passed between the players during a short video. Having completed the task, the participants were then asked if they’d spotted anything unusual in the video. An amazing 42% of participants, who took part in the experiment, failed to notice the unexpected appearance of a man in a gorilla suit! In other words, the participants were concentrating so hard on the task in hand, that their brains failed to process all peripheral information. This is a clear demonstration of a phenomenon known as perceptual blindness: the inability to recognise something unusual, even when it is staring us straight in the face!
Mobile phones, and other devices, also require high levels of concentration. We may not realise it, but around 40% of us are likely to be subject to the same kind of perceptual blindness, as we answer texts or scroll through the internet, as the participants in the experiment! This means that, by the time you’ve finished reading this article, around 2 in 5 of you may have missed the rampaging gorilla man! Alternatively, you may have missed a child reaching up to a pan of boiling water in the kitchen, or perhaps failed to notice the screaming child dangling helplessly from the monkey bars! The potential consequences of perceptual blindness can be devastating. Therefore, it is important for all of us to be aware of the danger, and to switch off our mobile phones (or at least turn them to silent) at times when the risks of danger are particularly high. Examples of such occasions include, when you’re cooking, supervising infants in a play park, at bath time, and, most importantly, when you’re driving. Indeed, a recent study has demonstrated that, when driving, even hands free devices still pose a significant risk to road safety. Hence the message is simple: switch of your technology and remain vigilant!
Rob Hodgkison, Harmony at Home Limited. All Rights Reserved, 2016
Janelle K. Seegmiller, Jason M. Watson, and David L. Strayer. 2011. Individual Differences in Susceptibility to Inattentional Blindness. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition. Vol. 37, No. 3, 785–791.
Gemma F. Briggs, Graham J. Hole, Michael F. Land. 2016. Imagery-inducing distraction leads to cognitive tunnelling and deteriorated driving performance. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology and Behaviour, Vol. 38, 106–117.