Drop everything you are doing right now and get ready for a bit of science. Ready?
First, you need to watch the following video. See how well you can do with the experiment. You’ll have to watch very intently, as it’s a bit tougher than it looks.
|Free Video Hosting|
Ok, how did you do?
Yeah, I felt the same way at first. If you would like, feel free to burn off some steam and relax, listen to some scrubby guys sing Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. If you want to find out about the science behind the little experiment, read on!
So what exactly happened here, and why am I asking so many questions?
Well, the questions are so we can get a bit of space in between the video and explanation, and the answer is related to a neat phenomenon related to humans.
The human brain is simply amazing; a complex command center capable of many things, from issuing coordination to abstraction.
Like every thing in nature, however, the brain does have its limits.
One of those limits, as demonstrated in this example, involves the potential for diminished attention when focusing on new tasks.
If you were truly intent on counting the number of passes made by people in the white shirts, and became narrowly focused, your brain perhaps made you subject to a state of awareness coined by Irvin Rock and Arien Mack as INATTENTIONAL BLINDNESS.
In this video, for those who missed the big visual event, there are several explanations as to what could have happened.
You’ll note, that the unexpected object in the video was fully and blatantly visible. If you don’t believe it, and as you likely have already done by this point, re-watch the video and only look for the object you may have missed the first time around.
Now if you missed the unexpected event, that does not mean anything is wrong with your brain. In fact, that means you were intently focused and paying attention to a primary task. Your failure to notice the unexpected event likely had nothing to do with the nature of the huge honkin’ gorilla, but more with the fact that your overall attention was limited in scope due to full engagement of a particular task. That is, your brain may have been selectively excluding sensory data.
Was It Really Blindness?
That’s a very good question and the answer may be yes, no, or yes and no. There are other possibilities to explain this phenomenon, though from research inattentional blindness is readily explored.
The brain constantly processes and responds to stimuli. The question presented by the idea of inattentional blindness is do we miss -significantly- unexpected events, that is potential visual stimuli, when engaged in tasks? In application to the video, this means that you didn’t recall the big dancing gorilla, much like the observers in the film, simply because you did not see it.
Inattentional Amnesia and Agnosia
However, what if you actually did see it? That is surely a possibility. In that case, it could indicate that our brains may experience a sort of memory lapse, that is inattentional amnesia. You may have very well seen the gorilla on the first time around, and even made a quick note of “Wow, a dancing gorilla!”, and continued on your focused task of counting the passes.
By the time you were queried to what you saw in the video (the expected stimuli of a ball being caught N times), you may have totally forgotten about the gorilla. That is, you experienced amnesia.
Another possibility lies within being an agnostic of sorts. Who knows what that implies?
If you said, “I’m not certain”, you are either witty or really just agnostic.
Inattentional agnosia in the event of focused attention and unexpected events, presents itself in a situation where your brain may experience an unknown “thing” but fail to categorize it, leaving it as an ignored enigma, or to say, unknown. That is, you were either partially or fully unable to recognize the gorilla using your typical visual center.
So though you may have actually seen the unexpected event, and it was somewhat observed and therefore processed, it may not register to the brain as being significant and thus not readily recalled or reported.
Implications and Things to Ponder
In all, this leaves us with more questions about the nature of the brain, the way we process events, our limits and even questions about the nature of our evolution.
An interesting study would be to have a group of people, a control, simply observe the overall scene without being told what to expect, including gorilla, while having their brain stimulation monitored. When the unexpected stimulus appeared, would their brains show similar patterns to those who were encouraged to focus on a narrow task?
This also brings another interesting question, or more an implication. Is narrowed focus and discard of seemingly irrelevant “data” a beneficial feature of our evolutionary heritage? Being in a world with increased stimuli, and a brain that is highly equipped to observe and plan based on stimuli, without being able to “tune out” so to speak there exists a possibility that the brain could overload -or not be able to readily focus on tasks- granted the inability to actively lose focus when needed (if through inattentional blindness, agnosia, or amnesia or other explanations).
Is the human tendency to naturally limit attention and discard unexpected stimuli when focused an evolutionary advantage, as opposed to cerebral limitation? One other interesting study would be to see how people with genetic conditions, such as ADD, would perform given the task set in the video. Would their results differ?
Whatever the answers to these questions may be, it is a definite that the human brain is a complex marvel.
So what do you make of all of this and how did you do in the initial experiment?!?
(listed as abstracts)
Cognition. 2007 Apr 11
The attentional cost of inattentional blindness.
Conscious Cogn. 2006 Sep;15(3):620-7. Epub 2006 Feb 17.
The effects of eye movements, age, and expertise on inattentional blindness
Pyschol Review 2005 Jan;112(1):217-42.
What you see is what you set: sustained inattentional blindness and the capture of awareness.
Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events. (outdated, used to reference video)