Tunnel vision can literally blind us to part of reality. This phenomenon basically occurs when we are enormously stressed and face danger. So critical thinking is reduced and we make impulsive decisions that may not be appropriate.
What is Tunnel Vision in Psychology?
When we drive too fast, our vision narrows, such that we are unable to see what is happening in our larger environment. It is estimated that at 130 km / h, our viewing angle is only about 30 degrees, so we can only see clearly what we are in front of. What is on the sides vanishes until it disappears completely.
Of course, the faster the speed increases, the narrower our field of vision becomes. It is as if the world around us suddenly ceases to exist. However, this "tunnel effect" does not only occur when we drive at a certain speed. We can also suffer from tunnel vision caused by anxiety and stress.
In fact, the definition of tunnel vision indicates a narrow field of view in which we maintain central vision, but we almost completely lose peripheral vision. We can see well in a straight line but the vision on both sides is very limited. This phenomenon is also referred to as the “tubular field”, because it is like seeing through a tube.
The tunnel effect affects our perception in a global way
Tunnel vision can be caused by stress and anxiety. In this case, it refers to the narrowing of attention and is not limited only to the field of view. In practice, we see less not because we have a visual problem but because our attention is limited.
In fact, the tunnel effect affects not only our sight but also our hearing. We not only stop seeing some stimuli, but also feeling them. We stop paying attention to them because at that moment they are not relevant to us.
In this sense, an experiment conducted at Johns Hopkins University revealed that when we suffer from tunnel vision, our ability to listen also decreases. That is, tunnel vision leads to a reduction in hearing, it is as if by focusing our sight on something, the auditory cortex also lowers the volume.
Similarly, when these researchers provoked tunnel listening, they found that the performance of the control center also decreased. These results led them to conclude that there is a tunnel effect that affects our senses and perceptual capacity in an integral way.
In some cases, when the stress is severe enough, the auditory receptors in the brain can shut down completely. Neuroscience has a term for this. It is called hearing exclusion.
Tunnel vision from stress and anxiety
Tunnel vision from anxiety and stress can be the result of a fear-induced adrenaline rush generated by a specific threat.
When we are subject to a threatening situation, a series of physiological changes occur in our body that prepare us to face the danger. Those changes, however, cause us to focus our attention on the danger, sharpening our senses in that direction and blurring the rest, so that it doesn't distract us.
When our emotional brain detects a threat, it quickly adjusts the focus of our eyes on the danger, which generates the tunnel effect. The pupils dilate due to the effect of adrenaline, which, produced by the adrenal glands, invades the bloodstream.
At that precise moment, an enormous amount of light enters the eye without it having time to adapt. The increase in light affects the ability to observe what is happening peripherally, generating the so-called tunnel vision. In practice, we respond as if a camera eliminated from its lens anything irrelevant to focus attention on the element that constitutes a threat.
In fact, in the video below you can see the tunnel vision caused by stress. At the end of the video, on two occasions one can see how one of the thieves passes twice in front of the woman who is being attacked but she does not see him because she is too focused on the other two thieves.
How to disable the tunnel effect?
Tunnel vision is likely to have helped our ancestors survive, but in most situations we live in today it is not helpful to focus so much attention on a specific point while neglecting the surrounding environment.
Adrenaline surges can save our lives, but they also limit our critical thinking, senses, motor skills and can lead us to make impulsive decisions that we will later regret.
The first step to deactivate or at least reduce the tunnel effect is to be aware of its existence, especially in situations of stress and anxiety. Therefore, trying to lower the tension level is essential to regain more attention.
Breathing exercises are very effective in reducing stress and regaining control. The physiological effects can be seen in just 5-8 minutes. When our brain is in a more relaxed state, it can devote resources to analyzing its surroundings.
We can also try to activate our conscious mind. Tunnel vision is largely due to the emotional brain taking over, so sometimes to unlock the senses we just have to make an effort to analyze the environment. We must ask ourselves with curiosity, not fear: what am I missing? This will help us expand our field of vision.