Gorillas in the Mist

Aug 12 2010

“Seeing is believing.”

For those of you who have never tried, please use the link below and complete the selective attention test before reading the rest of this article.

Selective attention test

How many passes did you count?

This morning I tidied up my desk and found a pen I’d been looking for for the last three days.  It was set on my desk all the time.  I could see it I didn’t notice it!

The Invisible Gorilla is an entertaining review of six different ways in which our intuition deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re much more in control than we really are.  As well as the illusion of attention, through which we believe we notice much more than we really do, there are illusions of memory, confidence, knowledge, cause and potential.  Our mind is amazingly powerful, but also extremely selective (with good evolutionary reasons), leading us to be much more confident in our mental abilities in some situations than we have any right to be.

How strong is the illusion of attention?  What else do we miss? Although our mind is a fantastic pattern recognition machine, much of the time we are very focused on specific goals, and therefore our mind looks for specific patterns in the environment.  Imagine a busy housewife, with impatient kids, walking through a supermarket to find fishcakes and chips for their evening meal.  Her mind is focused on finding the items in the freezer container, and listening to her children’s description of the schoolday.  Would she spot a man in a gorilla suit in the 3rd aisle, let alone a cleverly designed shelf hanger or a new tomato sauce brand (even when the packaging has been designed by a neuroscientist)?

The kids might spot the gorilla though!

Researchers should focus on understanding the patterns and context, and using that understanding to simplify the experience.


The Invisible Gorilla by  Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

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