Thursday, May 06, 2004

The Gorilla in the Room

Chris Bertram at Crooked Timber links to a Daily Telegraph article on a study I was already long aware of, but which still left me feeling a sense of amazement when I read about it again.

Working with Christopher Chabris at Harvard University, Simons came up with another demonstration that has now become a classic, based on a videotape of a handful of people playing basketball. They played the tape to subjects and asked them to count the passes made by one of the teams.

Around half failed to spot a woman dressed in a gorilla suit who walked slowly across the scene for nine seconds, even though this hairy interloper had passed between the players and stopped to face the camera and thump her chest.

However, if people were simply asked to view the tape, they noticed the gorilla easily. The effect is so striking that some of them refused to accept they were looking at the same tape and thought that it was a different version of the video, one edited to include the ape.

Amazing, isn't it? The way in which our focus on certain things can blind us to others is something I feel deserves greater recognition; often, the more you look, the less you see.