Inattentional blindness in medicine

Connor M. Hults, Yifan Ding, Geneva G. Xie, Rishi Raja, William Johnson, Alexis Lee, Daniel J. Simons

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


People often fail to notice unexpected stimuli when their attention is directed elsewhere. Most studies of this “inattentional blindness” have been conducted using laboratory tasks with little connection to real-world performance. Medical case reports document examples of missed findings in radiographs and CT images, unintentionally retained guidewires following surgery, and additional conditions being overlooked after making initial diagnoses. These cases suggest that inattentional blindness might contribute to medical errors, but relatively few studies have directly examined inattentional blindness in realistic medical contexts. We review the existing literature, much of which focuses on the use of augmented reality aids or inspection of medical images. Although these studies suggest a role for inattentional blindness in errors, most of the studies do not provide clear evidence that these errors result from inattentional blindness as opposed to other mechanisms. We discuss the design, analysis, and reporting practices that can make the contributions of inattentional blindness unclear, and we describe guidelines for future research in medicine and similar contexts that could provide clearer evidence for the role of inattentional blindness.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number18
JournalCognitive Research: Principles and Implications
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2024

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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