Hiding in plain sight: How our brains frame our world

Let’s play a game. 

First, watch this video. Focus on the horrifically late-1990s-dressed kids in white and try to count how many times they pass the ball.

Did you do it? 

Did you see the equally unattractive gorilla walk into the shot, beat his chest, and walk away?

Image

Courtesy of blunder prone.blogspot.com

Research shows that we can become so focused on looking for one particular thing or completing a specific task that we fail to notice something glaringly obvious, say, a gorilla. 

Like most freshman college students in a Psych 101 class, I failed to notice the poorly dressed primate. Also, like most freshman college students in a Psych 101 class, I completely forgot about the study once the semester was over.

It has been five years since that furry beast and I locked eyes through a computer screen. We were reunited intellectually, as many people are, through a story on NPR.

The story spotlighted radiologists and dubbed them “professional searchers” and “experts at looking.” My grandad is a radiologist, so my ears perked up a little at the praise being thrown toward his profession. But the story went deeper. Researchers put radiologists to the selective attention test, using the same gorilla method as in the video with the kids passing a ball. 

Image

Courtesy of NPR.org

Can you spot the little gorilla hidden inside this lung scan? I couldn’t and neither could 83 percent of radiologists. 

That is not to say, according to the research, that the radiologists often miss things as obvious as a gorilla. The study shows that if you ask a person to complete a challenging task, like finding cancer in a lung scan, their focus narrows and blocks out other things, like a tiny gorilla. 

An article in the Huffington Post explored research that took studying selective attention a step further–when we pay close attention to spoken words, we can become deaf to other sounds. Pretty scary. You can try the experiment for yourself here.   

So, although science shows you probably won’t notice them even if they did, here’s hoping you don’t bump into any gorillas hiding in plain sight today. 

 

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