Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Empirical argument for billboard restrictions

The Economist reports on research from Steven Most at Yale into a condition called "emotion-induced blindness" (apparently similar to and named analogously to motion-induced blindness). Most's research shows that gory and erotic images trigger a condition which lasts for two-tenths to eight-tenths of a second during which the viewer fails to process what they see immediately afterwards. This is attributed to "an information-processing bottleneck in the brain when it is presented with important stimuli," the categories in question being relevant to avoiding dangers and reproductive success, respectively.

This phenomenon provides grounds for an argument that some content-based restrictions on visual material in certain locations (e.g., alongside highways) are justified on the basis of their potential to cause physical harm. (Or that liability should be incurred for resulting accidents by those who put such material in place.)


Einzige said...

Are there any studies that show increased incidence of accidents near erotic billboards?

Also, since a good portion of the act of driving is managed by the cerebellum (I am told), I wonder how much this emotional blindness really impacts a person's acuity.

Aren't there a lot of other potential distractions on the road that are more likely to impact drivers (Their own thoughts, passengers in the vehicle, right-wing talk radio pundits, etc.)?

Jim Lippard said...

That's an excellent point--how much of driving is dependent upon conscious awareness? If it's like most other things, probably a lot less than we think. This might narrow down the scope of the problem to places where a driver needs to make a conscious decision of some sort (e.g., about turning, or stopping and starting).

If this is really analogous to motion-induced blindness, it's worth noting that the objects which disappear from the conscious visual field still produce after-image effects even when they aren't consciously visible, so they are still being perceived/processed by parts of the brain.