What We Missed and Why?

What We Missed and Why?

By: Afon (Mohammad) Khari

"Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity."
Simone Weil
French Philosopher

Since it is the time of the year when we look back at some articles we might have missed, I thought it would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves why we miss things in general. As educators, understanding why learners might miss or overlook information is necessary for addressing the gaps this leaves and creating effective learning environments. The complex workings of our brains and minds play an important role in how we perceive, process, and remember information. Here are some scientific tokens on why we miss things:

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Attention-Related Reasons

  • Selective Attention: Our brains prioritize certain stimuli while filtering out others. This necessary filtering process helps manage cognitive load but can lead to missed details (Inattentional Blindness) if they fall outside our focus. Do you remember this video, showing the original 1999 awareness test from Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris? Also, this article talks about selective attention in academia.
  • Divided Attention: Multitasking divides our attention, making it difficult to fully grasp any single activity. This often results in missing important details in one or more of the tasks we are juggling. This idea is backed by this article that was mentioned in our June 2020 issue.
  • Attentional Blink: After detecting one stimulus, our brains experience a brief period during which we are less likely to notice a second stimulus. This temporal limitation can cause us to miss sequential information. Check out this video to see this in action!
  • Change Blindness: Significant changes in a visual scene can go unnoticed if our attention isn’t directed toward the changing elements, highlighting the limits of our perceptual awareness. More in this video, which explains why you miss big changes right before your eyes.

Memory-Related Reasons

  • Working Memory Limitations: Our working memory can only handle a limited amount of information at a time. When it is overloaded, some details are inevitably forgotten or overlooked. (You can read more about working memory in our 2018 issue on the topic.)
  • Interference: Both old information (proactive interference) and new information (retroactive interference) can disrupt our ability to remember, leading to missed details. This is explained wonderfully in Wikipedia and in this Queensland Senior Psychology lecture on YouTube.
  • Encoding and Retrieval Failures: Sometimes, information doesn’t get properly encoded into long-term memory due to insufficient attention or lack of deep processing, resulting in forgetfulness. Even if information is encoded and stored, it might be inaccessible when needed, leading to an apparent gap in memory. You can learn  more about it in this video by Mr Ting.
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Other Cognitive Factors

Other cognitive factors also contribute to why we miss things. High perceptual demands and excessive mental effort (Cognitive Load) can reduce our ability to process additional stimuli. Our expectations and prior knowledge shape what we notice, often causing us to miss unexpected information. Lack of motivation or interest decreases attention and engagement, while stress, anxiety, and emotional states further distract us. Habituation to repeated stimuli leads to decreased attention, and sleep deprivation and fatigue impair both attention and memory, increasing the likelihood of missing information.

As we revisit the articles from the 2022 Think Tanks, let us reflect on how these insights can be applied to bridge the gaps in our classrooms today. In this issue, we invite you to reread a selection of Think Tank articles from 2022.

Afon (Mohammad) Khari is a master’s student in Brain and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Amsterdam. He holds a BA in English Literature, an MA in Philosophy of Art, and a CELTA. Afon has been reading and researching on the integration of neuroscience into pedagogy.

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