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In a scenario where somebody is watching trees go past out of a window looking for something they might stop noticing details and then miss what they are looking for because they have become accustomed to the mass of detail going past them.

What is the term to describe this? Word or phrase.

  • 5
    Not see the trees for the forest. – Hot Licks Sep 27 '15 at 19:39
  • 2
    Related – Mazura Sep 28 '15 at 0:04
  • Perhaps "eye fatigue"? – George Edison Sep 28 '15 at 19:09

12 Answers 12

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"her eyes glazed over"

Example: "I was staring at the puzzle so long that my eyes glazed over." The term is often used as an expression of boredom or tiredness. For example: "After one hour of looking at his travel pictures, each one accompanied by a long explanation, my eyes glazed over and my mind went numb."

The best reference to this phrase is another question on ELU: Isn’t “Eye-glazing” a popular word? Why isn’t it included in major English dictionaries?

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  • 3
    I've been thinking of a shorter word for this, but i think "eyes glazing over" is probably the best i could do. It means that you're still looking (receiving eye input) but you're not really seeing (processing the input into a meaningful perception). – Max Williams Sep 28 '15 at 10:34
7

White-line fever

Typically when you're driving at night, and unable to focus / keep it together because of staring too much at the white-lines.

Sensory overload

The technical term for this. But it's only one of the possible results, irritability, etc.

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  • Also called Highway hypnosis: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Highway_hypnosis – Wayfaring Stranger Sep 28 '15 at 19:44
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    For what it's worth, as a native speaker of American English, I have never seen the term 'white-line fever' before. What dialect are you familiar with, user3082? Also, while both 'highway hypnosis' and 'sensory overload' are familiar terms, I definitely think ab2's answer of 'eyes glazed over' is what I have heard most commonly (or colloquially, 'zoning' or 'zoning out' as PLL suggested). – jimbotherisenclown Sep 29 '15 at 10:25
  • At IMDB, 1975: imdb.com/title/tt0073896 Pretty American: "Returning from a stint in the Air Force, Carrol Jo Hummer borrows money to buy a truck, hoping to make enough money hauling produce to marry Jerri Kane and set up housekeeping. He discovers... " – Wayfaring Stranger Sep 29 '15 at 13:44
  • White line fever appears to be trucker slang, specifically, and not in use among the general public (certainly not since the mid 70s to early 80s at least). – Doktor J Nov 16 '15 at 16:22
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Tunnel vision

Taken literally, it means "the loss of peripheral vision with retention of central vision". Add a healthy dose of hyperbole to describe someone so focused on a task that they start missing details.

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This is probably not something you'd use in casual conversation, but the technical term inattentional blindness might apply in this case. This is what happens when your attention focuses on one aspect of something to such an extent that you lose the ability to see unrelated or unexpected things. There are numerous videos which allow you to see the effect yourself, such as this one.

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4

Besides the suggestions already given, you could say they’d zoned out.

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    Zoning out is slang for "becoming oblivious to one's surroundings". From merriam-webster.com/dictionary/zone%20out. Watching trees go by might make somebody begin to zone out, for example. Though Merriam Webster doesn't list this definition, I've always used it when a person begins to contemplate something else. I wouldn't say that I'm "zoning out" unless I'm thinking about things (other than my immediate environment). I nearly posted this answer before noticing another user listed it. – person27 Sep 29 '15 at 4:15
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There's a phrase I like for this, and it's not quite as literal as it looks [sic]:

I became blind to what was in front of me

To "become blind to something" in this sense doesn't literally mean your eyes fell out, but that for whatever reason — in this case a complex series of chemical responses in your brain, due to familiarity, boredom, eye strain and probably a touch of motion blur — you ceased paying any real attention.

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2

That monotonous mass of details has become just background noise.

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2

Perhaps blur? As in "...the trees blurred before his eyes". Or faded into the background. Maybe merged?

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I think the word that neurologists and psychologists use for this is habituation. Wikipedia describes it as:

a form of learning in which an organism decreases or ceases to respond to a stimulus after repeated presentations.1 Essentially, the organism learns to stop responding to a stimulus which is no longer biologically relevant. For example, organisms may habituate to repeated sudden loud noises when they learn these have no consequences. [2] Habituation usually refers to a reduction in innate behaviours, rather than behaviours developed during conditioning in which the process is termed "extinction".

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Can't see the wood for the trees.

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  • Hi kafka, welcome to EL&U. This is an interesting phrase. Can you provide some info on where it came from by any chance? – Adam Sep 29 '15 at 8:37
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I'm not really certain about the context in which you wish to use the word or phrase, but would the word myopia work for you?

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  • Myopia strictly refers the medical condition also known as short-sightedness. This is normally cured by spectacles, or for the foolish, laser surgery. – Nicole Oct 2 '15 at 1:02
  • Yes, you provide the word's definition in sensu stricto, but my suggestion was offered in sensu lato, as the OP's query seemed to allow. – Peter Oct 3 '15 at 11:38
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I suggest "glassy-eyed" - the fixed look people get when they've disconnected from what they're seeing.

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