A Clue to "I Can't Find [enter search term] Syndrome"
I have found the answer to why men can open the fridge and can not past the first shelf, and why kids can’t find their library books on the bookshelf marked Library or their rainboots in the cupboard.
I glanced at the Social Studies: A Daily Miscellany of Information in the Globe and Mail a few weeks ago and this headline caught my eye: Can’t See It For Looking? The tidbit referenced a Duke University study that found that airport security employees may miss a deadly box cutter if they find a water bottle first. They did a series of tests and found that identifying easy to spot items diverted people away from finding the more hidden items.
This concept is called “satisfaction of search”, a term coined in the 60s when a study found that radiologists would move on to other X-rays after they found one problem, never looking for another. This is very similar to someone standing in front of the fridge grabbing the milk, drinking it all and then asking me why there is no orange juice, even though it is just slightly to the right of their eye line.
The interesting thing is that the researchers at Duke found that the “satisfaction of search” was not based on people ending their search because they found something easily. It is based on something else which they called “attentional sets” which according to researchers “suggests that finding one kind of target will make you more likely to find that same type of target rather than a new, different one”. I am taking that to mean that if my daughter finds her flip-flops while looking for her rain boots, she can now no longer find her rainboots because her brain is now sending her only flip-flop messages. Unfortunately, because she is four this also means that she is going out in the rain in flip-flops which will result in whining and a possible temper tantrum.
Researchers say further work needs to be done on this topic. I am offering up my family as test subjects. Anyone else?