Out of touch? Visual load induces inattentional numbness

Sandra Murphy, Catherine Dalton

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It is now well known that the absence of attention can leave people unaware of both visual and auditory stimuli (e.g., Dalton & Fraenkel, 2012; Mack & Rock, 1998). However, the possibility of similar effects within the tactile domain has received much less research. Here, we introduce a new tactile inattention paradigm and use it to test whether tactile awareness depends on the level of perceptual load in a concurrent visual task. Participants performed a visual search task of either low or high perceptual load, as well as responding to the presence or absence of a brief vibration delivered simultaneously to either the left or the right hand (50% of trials). Detection sensitivity to the clearly noticeable tactile stimulus was reduced under high (vs. low) visual perceptual load. These findings provide the first robust demonstration of “inattentional numbness,” as well as demonstrating that this phenomenon can be induced by concurrent visual perceptual load.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)761-765
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number6
Early online date14 Mar 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Mar 2016

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