looking-not-listening“Look at me. Look at me. Look at me NOW!”  – The Cat in the Hat

Scientists at the University College London report that healthy adult subjects (ages 18-43) showed “inattention deafness” when they were required to do a visually demanding task like looking for letters. Vision and hearing, it seems share a certain amount of ‘desk space’ for attentional capacity.

It’s important to note because often we hear folks of all sorts (parents, teachers, medical educational professionals) interpret a person’s not hearing “Time to do your homework / take out the trash etc.” as hyper focus as if it was a sign of ADD. It’s not, everyone has this to some degree.

It is true that some have this inattention deafness more than others. As a group, we would suspect that inattention deafness with visual overload is more common among dyslexics than non-dyslexics; we’ve talked about the visual crowding difficulties associated with dyslexia before, but what that also means is that dyslexics as a group may be overloaded by the visually crowded materials (like math problem spaced too close together) so that while they’re working, they may also be less likely to hear.

From the study:

“The fact that people may be subjectively deaf to a sound when engaged with a task of high visual load has a range of consequences for daily life. For example, when engaged in a visually loaded task (e.g., searching for a missing jigsaw piece), people may fail to hear the doorbell ring, or may even fail to notice the sound of their car alarm from a distance. A pedestrian reading a text message when about to cross the road may fail to hear the sound of a vehicle approaching, and a surveillance operator may fail to hear a warning signal while monitoring a complex visual scene.”

For Premium Subscribers, we’ll talk a bit more about this and its implications below.