No matter how good a detective you are, there are some things you simply can't see (with the unaided eye), such as:
- Your forehead
- Your chin (unless you're this guy)
Actually, life is full of blind spots, once you start looking for them.
For starters, everyone has two huge blind spots that naturally occur right in the middle of the visual field because the spot where the optic nerve plugs into the retina in the back of the eye has no photoreceptors.
(Maybe you already knew that. If not, here are some fun optical illusions from a University of Washington professor that play with those blind spots.)
Most of us go about our day unaware of these blind spots because the brain is very good at filling in the gaps. Researchers have discovered that when you're focusing on one object, your mind paints in the periphery with the expected imagery. This allows you to process visual information efficiently without using a lot of bandwidth. Scientific American explains: "The richness of our individual experience is largely illusory; we actually 'see' very little and rely on educated guesswork to do the rest."
The brain's ability to seamlessly and effortlessly piece together real and improvised information explains a lot of things―like why it's so difficlut to spot typos, especially your own. You know what the paper is supposed to say, so the brain inserts the letter it expects in place of what's actually on the paper.
For many of our clients at industrial or academic laboratories, this also explains why it's difficult to spot hazards at your own facility. You get so used to looking at your own stuff that you begin to take some things for granted. Which is why having an outside party perform a safety inspection works better than doing it internally.
I believe this also explains why someone else always seems to find my keys before I do.
Taking this a step further, when it comes to safety, there can also be larger, organizational blind spots. Sometimes, a boy-who-cried-wolf phenomenon can develop within an organization, causing staff to tune out safety warnings. But having someone from the outside singing the same song in what is perhaps a different octave can be very helpful in getting the safety message across in a way that people listen.
Of course, no one is completely immune to blind spots. We all have them, just different ones. But when doing a safety inspection, identifying as many blind spots as possible is crucial. One of the best ways to spot blind spots? A fresh set of eyes.
To help academic and industrial laboratories find their blind spots, the Laboratory Safety Institute has been conducting lab inspections for more than 40 years. Due to COVID-related restrictions, we are now offering this service using a set of online tools. Click here for more information about continuing safety inspections during the pandemic.
To close, here's one of my favorite "blind spot" optical illusions. Do you see the picture change?
(By the way, before you write in the comments, misspelling "difficlut" was completly intentional.)