Good post and great link.
I think it's quite possible, and definitely desirable, to pay more attention to the outside world than most others do. Just deciding
to notice important details such as who's entering the restaurant or who's around us as we unlock our cars is a big step to avoiding potential danger.
But I also think that the research clearly shows that even people who are paying attention can be caught off guard or caught by surprise.
That's why I'm sometimes unhappy with the blame-the-victim threads we see here, where someone posts a news story about something that happened, and the very first post after that (and most subsequent posts) are devoted to singing the praises of personal awareness and excoriating the victim for not being aware.
These posts miss some major and essential learning points simply because they start from the position that anyone who is paying attention couldn't
miss seeing an impending criminal attack. But a more realistic understanding of human nature -- and the nature of criminal attacks -- takes into account that some well trained and otherwise aware people might very well find themselves behind the curve, taken unawares, fighting for their lives after they missed the first cue and didn't see the opening gambit.
Also, I think you're right: general awareness and specific focus do seem to be mutually exclusive. That's why good trainers specifically teach their students about tunnel vision and urge them to "break out of the tunnel" by deliberately looking around after an engagement. I wonder if we should be adapting that same behavior to minor
focus shifts (such as a moment of heightened focus on one particular person or behavior, or after counting our change from the cashier).