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Old September 21, 2010, 12:12 AM   #1
JimL
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A vision thing

A recent comment spoke of different things that will develop when you are actually in this or that gun fight situation. It reminded me of something I've wondered about for a while - the tunnel vision effect.

An Ayoob article spoke of a LEO who was so focused on the fight that he either didn't or couldn't see nearby cover.

If there is a lot written about this I haven't seen it. Have people researched this to a great degree? Above I used the phrase "tunnel vision effect, " because at least the medical definition of tunnel vision is normally an actual physiological thing.

Are there other terms for the effect of losing sight of things due to intense concentration on one thing? Like "tunnel attention?" Or "tunneled perception?" Or is research on this particular aspect of combat still in its infancy so that there is no settled terminology - only borrowed buzz words?
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Old September 21, 2010, 02:55 AM   #2
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You can read about this in various psychological texts...

... usually under topics such as "stress," or "fight or flight reaction."

Great stress tends to produce tunnel vision; it can also reduce hearing. This is one reason why, when flight students get panicky, it can be very hard for instructors to get their attention.

This is also why learning to relax under pressure is a very useful thing in any number of endeavors.

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Old September 21, 2010, 03:03 AM   #3
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Caveat: I'm not claiming expert status...

... but I did minor in Psych. We covered some of this in my undergrad classes.

We also covered some of this stuff in the flight instructor training unit, in my Navy days.

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Old September 21, 2010, 12:38 PM   #4
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Quote:
Great stress tends to produce tunnel vision; it can also reduce hearing. This is one reason why, when flight students get panicky, it can be very hard for instructors to get their attention.
Years ago an instructor friend of mine had a student panic on approaching a line of trees at the end of the runway during take-off. Instead of waiting for the rise he hauled back on the yoke. Not only could the instructor not get him to turn over the controls, he pulled so hard the instructor couldn't force it forward. They stalled into a pond just past the tree line.

I've never been in a gun fight, so I don't know how it would effect me. Other kinds of heavy duty crisis situations have always turned me into mister cool, surveying the situation calmly. The worse the situation the cooler I get. I wonder what your psych schooling said about that... (Please don't send the white coats for me!) It would be interesting to know how many people freak, how many freeze, how many turn cool and variations in between in a gun fight.
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Old September 22, 2010, 07:22 AM   #5
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I think other things happen as well, in the same way as so-called tunnel vision, which might make a difference in a high stress situation.

First, however, "high stress situation" is misleading as I am using the expression. I am referring to circumstances in which you are concentrating very hard. You begin to exlude other elements from your senses, like you don't hear other things or see other things. Mostly, that is. For some reason you might pick up on certain things, they way you notice only your own name from the paging system or something like that, which isn't to say you'd necessarily react correctly. That probably depends on your experience. The best example I can think of is driving a car at a very high speed, assuming here that you actually are putting your "all" into the effort. But I guess that's stressful in a way but stress isn't the same if you have full control of the situation (or think you do).

Another thing that seems to happen is that time slows down. Things happen in slow motion. I couldn't begin to explain it but no doubt the opposite happens when you aren't reacting fast enough and it seems like you can't move. Either way, I'm sure most people have had things happen like that, even if they weren't self-defense situations.

I have been in a few emergency situations but I couldn't guarantee I'd react the same way the next time if I was in the same situation again. You become conditioned to react a certain way (or not react at all) under given circumstances and it is very hard to overcome that. All training is a form of conditioning.
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Old September 22, 2010, 01:28 PM   #6
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Quote:
I think other things happen as well, in the same way as so-called tunnel vision, which might make a difference in a high stress situation.
All things considered, it's a wonder anybody gets anything right, any time, anywhere.
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Old September 22, 2010, 01:44 PM   #7
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Funny you should mention that. I hardly ever do get anything right the first time.
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Old September 22, 2010, 01:53 PM   #8
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Quote:
Are there other terms for the effect of losing sight of things due to intense concentration on one thing? Like "tunnel attention?" Or "tunneled perception?" Or is research on this particular aspect of combat still in its infancy so that there is no settled terminology - only borrowed buzz words?
(Situational) Awareness. And it's not necessarily narrow because of stress, either. Most people (myself included) implicitly accept the false dichotomy that one must exclude awareness of some things to focus on others. In the comfort of your nice comfy chair, check out this vid:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qcgoay4

Google "situational awareness training", and you'll likely find lots of research done. One of the big things that separates top shooters (and top athletes in general) from the rest is that, either naturally or through training, they "see more".
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Old September 22, 2010, 05:57 PM   #9
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What Mr. Borland is talking about is a condition referred to both as "inattentional blindness" or sometimes "attention blindness." You are blind to something you can physically seen because you aren't paying attention to it or your are blind to an object you can physically see because you are paying so much attention to something else - different perspectives on the same situation.

Basically, you brain has only so much computing power and you cannot comprehend all items in your field of view to the point necessary to understand how each and every one of them can be applied to your immediage situation, especially if it is an immediate situation for which you are not prepared or in which you are not experienced.

Case and point, people will often run to a fire exit they see when they realize a fire has broken out even if it is a distant fire exit, much further than one they just passed. They might have seen the one they just passed, but because of their attention being elsewhere, the information was not filed, categorized, and organized as being immediately relevant and was summarily overlooked when the crisis occurred. This was a particular problem on airplanes where passengers tended to go to the exits in front of them (when seated) and not to much closer exits behind them (that they saw when boarding) and hence why part of the program on planes is to make passengers aware of all the relevant exits and that the closest exits may be behind the passenger.

Of course, the blindness isn't just about sight. It may well affect hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling, though humans tend to glean most of their information about their environment visually.
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Old September 22, 2010, 06:06 PM   #10
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Attention blindness

There is an interesting video demonstrating that this can occur even while not under stress. The video has people in white shirts throwing a large ball around to each other in a room. The video is shown with the instruction that the viewer watch the ball and count the number of times it is caught by a person in a white shirt. Most people watch and report the number of catches. The instructor then asks "who saw the gorilla?". Few do on the first viewing. On second viewing after being told about the gorilla, you see a guy in a gorilla suit slowly walking between the people throwing the ball. I couldn't believe that I didn't see it!
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Old September 22, 2010, 07:01 PM   #11
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Osageshooter, I was just about to mention the gorilla video. I'd heard about it in an audio book about how people behave in survival situations. Another study they mentioned was having people count the number of pictures in a newspaper. What the subjects didn't know was that the newspaper was a fake, and that a 1/2 page advertisement on page 2 told them they could claim a $200 prize if they mentioned seeing the ad. Almost everybody was so intent on counting that they missed it!

One of the ongoing conclusions drawn by the book was that survivors of life-threatening situations will constantly re-evaluate what's going on and take actions that help them and others. Not many people do that; they figured out that when things go wrong in a big way, 80% of people freeze & do nothing, 10% panic & do the wrong thing, and 10% will stay calm and do the right thing. They said that some of that 80% seem to benefit from being trained to do the right thing.

It was a neat book. "The Survivors Club" it was called.

My only experience with "tunnel vision" was when I first started playing paintball, and almost every time that I do detailed woodcarving. As a referee I would see new players get tunnel vision all the time... though it wasn't a visual thing so much as a total awareness thing. Their focus (sight, hearing, thoughts, everything) goes toward where they think the threat is. They will usually fail to see things like opposing players coming up on their sides. Players that stick with the sport usually learn to read what's going on around them after a few months of weekend play. It takes practice.

The tunnel vision I get from woodcarving, though, actually is a visual thing: things in the sides of my vision black out & I focus directly on the wood in front of me. It's like seeing things through a rifle scope or microscope. It's about the only situation I can think of where it's probably beneficial.
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Old September 22, 2010, 09:15 PM   #12
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Yeah, imagine all the times you have tried to talk to your spouse or kids when they are enraptured by the TV. They physically hear you, but all their listening is TV oriented and so the things you are saying may fail to register.

However, such shutting out of other audible information can often be overridden with a key word or other sort of stimulus. That is why it is necessary to sometimes start of a verbal message to a preoccupied person by saying their name first which cues them to retask their listening.

My father was a cop who was present for police radeo receivers to first be put into police cars and later transceivers. Once while watching Adam 12 on tv, I asked how it was that their radio always knew how to increase in volume when the dispatcher was calling for Reed and Malloy. In a given scene, Reed and Malloy would be chatting amongst themselves and there is radio traffic heard in the background until their call sign is given and then the radio was much louder. Pop explained that it was Hollywood recreating the perception of the officers. Much of the radio traffic would go unnoticed by the officers UNTIL their call sign was stated and then the radio noise would go from being background noise to being the audio-focus of the officers.
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Old September 22, 2010, 11:49 PM   #13
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JimL,

Pick up a copy of Dave Grossman's book On Combat, which discusses a lot of the perceptual phenomena related to high-stress situations, particularly the high stress of combat.

Or take a look at Alexis Artwohl & Loren Christensen's book Deadly Force Encounters, which details a lot of the more recent research in the field.

Or see David Klinger's Into the Kill Zone: A Cop's-Eye View of Deadly Force which provides some great stories from an in-depth study that Klinger did related to cops involved in lethal force encounters; it puts a human face on the dry research and gives a very clear picture of the sorts of things people experience under stress.

Or visit www.forcescience.org -- the Force Science Institute -- to receive a very informative free newsletter tracking some of the current research.

Lots of other good material out there too, if you look for it.

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Last edited by pax; September 22, 2010 at 11:59 PM. Reason: Added one more reference.
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Old September 22, 2010, 11:52 PM   #14
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Oh, one more link: http://thefiringline.com/forums/showthread.php?t=400992

That's a thread from awhile back which gathers some of the available online info into one place. Turned into a pretty good discussion too.

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Old September 24, 2010, 09:29 AM   #15
JimL
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Quote:
Most people (myself included) implicitly accept the false dichotomy that one must exclude awareness of some things to focus on others.
Based on my own very personal experience I must add a caution.

The ability or inability to attend to multiple things, often referred to as multitasking, is _HUGELY_ varied from one person to another. There are two things involved. The tendency to get deeply engrossed in a single thing and simply shut out other things -and- the straight up ability of the brain to attend to many things.

Personally I have had both the tendency to become engrossed AND a lack of multitasking ability all my life. I have often marveled at doctors who could talk to 2 or 3 patients at once on the phone.

You may assume that one can train oneself to simply notice something outside a current task. That's the first issue.

Factually the lack of multitasking ability can be very pronounced individually, moreover people who multitask easily and well often refuse to even believe that someone else cannot - and label them as lazy. (This is seen on computer forums, blogs and news groups constantly. Geniuses very often aren't smart enough to comprehend not being a genius.) There is almost nothing that can be done about a person's brain to make it multitask better. It is a hard wired thing and training has very marginal effect on a true "one-track" brain.
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Old September 24, 2010, 09:39 AM   #16
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people will often run to a fire exit they see when they realize a fire has broken out even if it is a distant fire exit, much further than one they just passed.
There was an actual case on TV in which a girl in a dormitory furiously fought off a hall monitor who was trying to turn her around to see an exit a few feet away. The girl died of smoke inhalation and her parents tried to prosecute the hall monitor.
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Old September 24, 2010, 09:57 AM   #17
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Quote:
blindness isn't just about sight.
I quite agree, but I would mention another point on differences between people.

Believe it or not there is variation from person to person in how fast the brain processes what comes into the eyes. Again I use myself as an example. In Chicago there was a machine that tested people's reaction times at driving. I was hyper athletic and a top notch driver, while my wife was "anti-athletic" and a poor driver.

Invariably my wife would get a much shorter reaction times on the machine than me, when cued visually. But the times were reversed when cued physically (vibration).

Although I have a 210 degree visual field (tested by pros) and generally excellent peripheral perception, I simply cannot see a boxers quick hook coming. Not in the cards.

So we need to be careful when laying down "how it is."
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Old September 24, 2010, 10:48 AM   #18
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I think that some of this applies equally to both concealing a handgun and attempting to decide if someone else is concealing a handgun, too. Your own experience and thought process is at work and because of that, you can easily overlook something by trying to see clues that are not there--because the other person isn't doing what you would do. Hard to explain in just a few words. But if you carry a pistol on your belt or inside the waistband just above your right hand hip pocket, that's where you will expect the other person to have his, when in fact it is in his hand in his left hand front pocket. Or something like that. With experience, though, you get better at it.
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Old September 24, 2010, 11:02 AM   #19
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It seems to me...

... that at least some people think the officer in Ayoob's story failed to see cover because of conscious concentration on the sights and assailant.

The way I interpret it is the officer had a pretty typical fight or flight reaction, and was not consciously concentrating at all. He was probably mentally locked onto the assailant whether he wanted to have broader SA or not.

That's a pretty normal reaction, with a physiological basis in fight or flight nervous wiring.

Training can compensate for that, but it needs to be as realistic as possible, and repeated very, very often. In stress situations, we tend to fall back more on muscle memory than conscious thought, so it's a really good idea to have the muscle memory trained as thoroughly as can be.
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Old September 24, 2010, 07:50 PM   #20
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Quote:
overlook something by trying to see clues that are not there
That reminds me of when I was a LEO. I saw a suspicious vehicle and actually foiled a hijack by taking action during a cash bag pickup at a grocery store.

Just a couple days ago my hair kind of stood on end upon seeing one particular car at a 7/11. The driver sat in the car for some time and I went in and to the back of the store to have a vantage point. I fully expected to see a pistol in a hip pocket whenever he decided to come in.

Finally I saw his head bobbing its way into the store then saw him step to the register, where I could see him clearly from the back. At that point it became perfectly clear that if he had ANY KIND of gun, even a water pistol, in his pocket his pants would have come the rest of the way down!
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Old September 30, 2010, 04:27 PM   #21
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Here is another fun video that would fit in nicely...
http://www.wimp.com/personswapping/
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Old September 30, 2010, 09:29 PM   #22
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Stole from JimL Post #4 Below.

Quote:
I've never been in a gun fight, so I don't know how it would effect me. Other kinds of heavy duty crisis situations have always turned me into mister cool, surveying the situation calmly. The worse the situation the cooler I get. I wonder what your psych schooling said about that... (Please don't send the white coats for me!) It would be interesting to know how many people freak, how many freeze, how many turn cool and variations in between in a gun fight.


I too have never been in a gun fight, but have been in dozens of fist and boot, head butt, baton? Stick and such fights (5 years Bouncer, Liverpool UK)

And I go very controlled, punches, kicks, hits with, whatever was handy, chairs?
Extremely focused. Your speed is increased, you concentrate your power, the power of your strikes. And people who have observed me, say I grin. Nuts? Was then. 1960 to 1965. And a couple of none working fights, after that 5 year period, just was dragged in, same control (Cool as stated by JimL) like you are detatched.

Try at 74 YOA to keep out of those kind of activity's, now a days.

Only really noticeable physical alteration in me, pale as a ghost, as the blood goes where it is needed most (not skin) major muscle groups, brain, heart.
Or so it seems.

Many years ago, at the end of my available strength, close to the end of 1500 mile drive, very early AM major hwy in Ontario, Canada.

The whole of my vision was a gray fuzzy tunnel (about an 8 ft circle) and to see any thing else, I had to swing my whole head, left or right, I pulled past a bridge, backed up to it, slept for two hours or so, fixed.
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