Attention? Oh Please!

After reading an article in the Guardian concerning humans and “attention blindness” I have started to think more about what may occur with reactive dogs who are “over threshold.”

The article referred to the results of a recent study undertaken whereby people were asked whether they felt they would take notice of something significant that entered their field of vision if they were busily paying attention to something else. Over three-quarters of people felt that they would. However, there is quite a bit of research that shows this is not the case.

Would You Miss The Gorilla?

The 1999 experiment by Daniel Simons involving a gorilla entering the field of vision of people concentrating on another task is a fascinating example. Most people reported that they never saw this gorilla!  This phenomenon is called “inattention blindness” and there is additional research supporting a similar phenomenon involving hearing, called “inattention hearing.”

“The question of whether a certain sound or sight is noticed depends on the strength of the signal versus the level of ‘noise’ around,” says Lavie who is here referring to humans.

“Lavie and MacDonald’s results suggest that attention has a limited capacity that is shared between vision and hearing,” the Guardian summarizes.

In Limited Supply

This research is relevant to training dogs, as it could help us understand that perhaps, just perhaps, our dogs are not ignoring us so much as being truly blind to us or deaf to us at that moment.

Lavie and MacDonald’s research involved the sense of sight and vision primarily. With dogs, we also have the component of smell, which may in fact tax this limited attention capacity to a much greater degree than we can even imagine.

Combine those findings with the recent research showing that most people feel that they would be attentive to an unexpected event entering their visual field, when in fact they would probably not, and we can start to see where a very real misunderstanding and misjudging of our dogs may occur.

If we humans do not believe that we would be inattentive, then of course it follows that we cannot understand how our dogs could possibly be inattentive.

So when we feel like our dogs are blowing us off in situations where something other than ourselves has grabbed their attention, we might do well to remember these findings.

Seeing “attention” as being in limited supply, and understanding that we as well as our dogs have a limited attention capacity, may help us be more patient pet parents.

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