I recently completed the audiobook version of The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us is by scholars and professors Christopher Chabris, Ph.D. and Daniel Simons, Ph.D. As the name implies, they describe the results and implications of fascinating research on the fallibility and shortcomings of human perception, attention, and memory. They introduce concepts such as “change blindness” (in which we fail to perceive visual changes that we think we should notice), illustrate some of the many limitations of memory and eyewitness testimony, and describe how we will demonstrate confidence in ourselves at times when it is unwarranted (i.e., confidence does not mean competence).
The title “The Invisible Gorilla” refers to findings from their classic study in which study participants were asked to count the number of basketball passes made by one of the teams in a short video. Unbelievably (but well substantiated by study replications), almost 50% of the participants in the study did not notice the person in the gorilla suit walk right in the middle of the players and beat his chest. The researchers dubbed when we fail to perceive things in plain sight “inattentional blindness”.
You might notice that I’m a fan of this genre of nonfiction…such as Drive by Daniel Pink, How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, and Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I guess I’m in the right profession because I find human behavior utterly fascinating. The authors often use stories and anecdotes to make the findings from cognitive psychology come to life, but they also use research findings to back their assertions (without getting too dry or technical though).
I mentioned “change blindness” earlier – how we often do not perceive visual changes that occur right in front of our eyes. Interestingly, one researcher pointed out that we have “change blindness blindness” in that we are unaware that we even have a problem with not noticing what would seem to be obvious visual changes. In that vein, I guess we also have “invisible gorilla blindness” in that we don’t really know that we often make these cognitive and perceptual errors. After reading (or listening to) The Invisible Gorilla, we can all learn to avoid making some of these errors by first realizing that we are capable of making them to begin with. This book sure engaged my attention…or at least I think it did. Er, would I even be aware of when it didn’t? Perhaps not…I guess I’m applying what I learned!
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