Control Blindness: Why People Can Make Incorrect Inferences about the Intentions of Others

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle


There is limited evidence regarding the accuracy of inferences about intention. The research described in this paper shows how Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) can provide a "ground truth" for these judgements. In a series of three studies, participants were asked to identify a person’s intention in a tracking task where the person’s true intention was to control the position of a knot connecting a pair of rubber bands. Most participants failed to correctly infer the person’s intention, instead inferring complex but non-existent goals (such as “tracing out two kangaroos boxing”) based on the actions taken to keep the knot under
control. Therefore, most of our participants experienced what we call “control blindness.” The effect persisted with many participants even when their awareness was successfully directed at the knot whose position was under control. Beyond exploring the control blindness phenomenon in the context of our studies, we discuss its implications for psychological research and public policy

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)841-849
Number of pages9
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Issue number3
Early online date17 Jan 2017
StatePublished - 2017

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