Awareness Notes: “Satisfaction of Search” & Multiples

In a short 2010 paper in i-Perception, Dr. Daniel Simons noted the following; “[The finding] is consistent with the phenomenon of ‘satisfaction of search’—people are less likely to search for additional targets once they have found their original target (Fleck et al 2010)—but extends it to the previously untested domain of inattentional blindness and the detection of unexpected objects. In sum, looking for an expected unexpected event has an unexpected effect on the detection of other unexpected events.
In the above cited paper, as well as in this interview with SEED Magazine, Dr. Simons discusses evolutions of his widely known gorilla experiment, in which a variant experiment was conducted for groups already familiar with the original; In the new experiments the expected-unexpected, the gorilla walking through the scene, occurred, but new unexpected changes occurred as well. Many participants in the new experiments failed to notice the unexpected events for which they had no priming. Dr. Simons attributes this to satisfaction of search and says that familiarity with an inattentional blindness task can enhance blindness in more involved scenes as the observer stops searching once the expectation is initially met.

We’ve previously discussed the phenomena of inattentional blindness, and mentioned that expectation of the “unexpected” event, i.e. the gorilla walking through the scene we’ve been instructed to attend to, seemed to increase the viewers ability to notice the “unexpected” event. In short, if you’ve been told its coming, you’re looking out for it in addition to whatever primary task you’re completing.
What Dr. Simons work on satisfaction of search suggests is that once an “expected unexpected” is attended, we become more blind to the truly unexpected. Falling prey to satisfaction of search, could influence us to refrain from searching for additional threats once initial cues have been detected.
Under the wrong circumstance, this could put us as far behind the power curve as not having situational awareness in the first place. Predators use distraction to disarm their targets, and when working in multiples can use different tactics to draw focus to one member of a team while their partner(s) approach the victim from less obvious angles. If we’re sensitive to the cues of potential assault during the interview or set-up phase, and focus in on a single source of those cues, we may be entirely unaware of the encroaching secondary threats. We must shape our thinking and training to deal with this. Approach by a single threat is it’s own cue of approach by multiple threats; We mustn’t fall prey to “satisfaction” or tunnel-vision effects, and neglect to be aware of multiples. Our training should incorporate the use of multiple aggressors, using tactics of misdirection and malicious attentional capture, to develop our sensitivity to relevant cues, and our ability to manage those situations once recognized.

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