Situational Awareness: What Are You NOT Seeing?

Situational awareness is intentionally being aware of possible threats in your everyday surroundings. But there’s more to it than what is obviously observable.

You need to also ask yourself, “What am I NOT seeing?”

That question comprises two sub-questions:

  • “What IS there that I SHOULD be seeing but I’m NOT seeing it?” and
  • “What ISN’T there that SHOULD be there that I’m NOT seeing?”

[ Read the SemperVerus article, Situational Awareness: 14 Ways to Walk Like You Drive ]

“Looking isn’t the same as seeing. You have to focus attention on something in order to become aware of it,” says Prof. Daniel Simons. “We know when we notice something unexpected, but we’re not aware of the times when we miss something unexpected….We need to filter out the distractions from our world and not let them interfere with our ability to do the task we’re trying to do.”

In self-defense situational awareness, it’s important to “filter out the distractions” and focus on both what IS in front of our eyes and what SHOULD be in front of our eyes but isn’t. Take the challenges in the videos below and see how attentive you are.

[ Read the SemperVerus article, Live Life Left of Bang ]

As it says in the book, Left of Bang, we need to develop recognition-primed decision-making: identify a pattern (a baseline) in a situation, recognize anomalies (threat indicators—the presence or absence of something off-pattern) to that baseline, and quickly determine a course of responses, without any analysis or comparing different courses of action. Simply act, instead of hesitating in order to deliberate.

[ Read SemperVerus articles on the topic of Situational Awareness ]

The following research is taken from, the website for the Visual Cognition Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, headed by Prof. Daniel Simons. The videos can also be seen here.

Inattentional Blindness

When people focus on a task that demands their attention, they often fail to notice unexpected objects and events that occur in full view. This phenomenon is known as “inattentional blindness” because people typically do not concsiously perceive aspects of their world that fall outside of the focus of their attention. These events can be dramatic enough that the vast majority of people are convinced that they would notice. In reality, though, many people do not.

Change Blindness

People fail to notice surprisingly large changes to their visual world when those changes occur during a brief moment of distraction. Under normal viewing conditions, changes to a scene produce a signal that can grab our attention. However, when that change signal is hidden by any sort of disruption (a flashed blank screen, an eye movement, a cut from one view to another in a movie), people can and do miss large changes. Critically, people are largely unaware of this limitation—most people are convinced that they will notice changes that, in reality, few people do. We are aware of far less of our visual world than we think.

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