A new UCLA psychology study has revealed that people often do not recall things they have seen - or at least walked by - hundreds of times.
For the study, 54 people who work in the same building were asked if they knew the location of the fire extinguisher nearest their office. While many of the participants had worked in their offices for years and had passed the bright red extinguishers several times a day, only 13 out of the 54 - 24 percent - knew the location.
When asked to find a fire extinguisher, however, everyone was able to do so within a few seconds; most were surprised they had never noticed them. The researchers found no significant differences between men and women, or between older and younger adults.
"Just because we've seen something many times doesn't mean we remember it or even notice it," said Alan Castel, an associate professor of psychology at UCLA and lead author of the study.
Castel said that not noticing things isn't necessarily bad, particularly when those things are not important in your daily life.
"It might be a good thing not to burden your memory with information that is not relevant to you," he said.
But with safety information, such as knowing where fire extinguishers are or what to do in an emergency, being prepared can, of course, be very useful, he stated.
"We don't notice something if we're attending to something else. Fire extinguishers are bright red and very conspicuous, but we're almost blind to them until they become relevant," Castel said.
Castel stresses that making errors during training is useful.
"It's good if errors happen during training and not during an event where you need the information. That's part of the learning process," he said.
The study has been published in the journal Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics.