The Invisible Gorilla- And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us by cognitive psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons outlines the trap of six “everyday illusions” (perhaps “delusions” would be an appropriate word) that cloud the decisions that we make from those of little consequence to those that can have life and death implications.

Before we get into any discussion of the award winning research that this book introduces watch this video first. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

We depend on our senses to give us input into the world around us. How else can we understand our reality? I am curious “Did you see the gorilla in the video?” If you didn’t, don’t be harsh on yourself. This experiment has been duplicated many times in different conditions, with different audiences, in different countries with consistent results: about half of the people miss seeing the gorilla.

Chabris and Simons go on to describe this phenomenon which is the first of the six everyday illusions as “inattentional blindness.” This occurs when something unexpected shows up in our field of attention. The thing that surprised the two researchers was the level of surprise expressed by the participants in the study who missed seeing the gorilla. Disbelief!

One of the assumptions people typically make is that we assume that if an object is visually distinct or unusual we will surely see it. Another aspect of this is that we may also assume that if we miss seeing something that it is intentional and we ascribe motivation to the failure to see.

The authors gives some examples of how this might impact people in day to day situations. From courtroom testimony where “inattentional blindness” played a role in a conviction. The jury just could not believe that the convicted didn’t see what “in their opinion” was right before his eyes. As well as the example of the nuclear submarine that surfaced directly under a Japanese fishing vessel despite the state of the art sonar and experienced crew and even after the captain did a manual periscope check for ships in the vicinity.

The biggest implication for me personally in this section of the book was the impact that talking on the phone while driving has on our attention. Yes 77% of us assume the problem is with “holding” the phone and talking, but Chabris and Simons debunk that proving that driving while having any cell phone conversation dramatically impairs our visual perception and awareness. Again as with the gorilla we are less likely to notice the unexpected and be able to react in time.

If you think this doesn’t apply to you consider the people you rely on – like the radiologist who is looking at images requested for you by your doctor, the management responsible for safety and discriminatory practices in your workplace or the staff who fail to notice bullying in your child’s school.

This book is chock-full of information that may be new and even shocking about what we think we know and how we might just be deluded.

Category: Perspectives
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