Blind drunk: the effects of alcohol on inattentional blindness



Alcohol consumption is a major contributor to road accidents. While it is likely that perceptual processing deficits contribute to poorer driving performance among intoxicated individuals, we know little about alcohol's role in particular perceptual processes. For instance, we know that even sober individuals can fail to detect unexpected salient objects that appear in their visual fields, a phenomenon known as inattentionalblindness (IB; Mack & Rock, 1998). We were interested in whether these visual errors become more or less likely when subjects are under the influence of alcohol or just think that they are drunk. We told half our subjects that they had received alcohol, and half that they had received a placebo. This information was either true or false. Intoxicated subjects (regardless of what they were told) were more likely to show ‘blindness’ to an unexpected object in their visual field. This finding has practical implications for human performance issues such as driving and eyewitness memory, and theoretical implications for visual cognition. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.