Inattentional blindness

Today’s keynote speaker, Daniel Simons, talked about inattentional blindness, the inability to perceive features in a visual scene you’re not paying attention to. It’s used in movies. For example, in The Matrix, the scene in which Neo and Morpheus first spar Kung-Fu style, there’s a stunt double for Keanu. Unless you’re looking for a tall Asian guy doing flips, you’ll perceive it as Neo opening a can of whoop-ass.

Simons’ first example was a powerpoint “card trick” where he presents five face cards. A person in the audience secretly picks one. The presenter then shows the next slide and the card’s no longer there – magic! Try it here.

In an especially funny video, he had someone ask a stranger for directions. As the stranger is explaining, confederates carrying a large box go between the two and they swap out the original requester with another person. The new person was 3″ taller, different color/more hair, Brooklyn accent at least an octave lower. In nearly all cases, the stranger kept trying to help.

They did another, similar one where someone lined up for an experiment and filled out a consent form. In the middle of a sentence, the person behind the desk ducked down, as if to pick something, then another person stood up and resumed the conversation. The person was handed back their consent form and asked if they noticed anything. Nearly all did not.

I failed most of the tests given, but surprisingly did okay in this example only because I didn’t hear the original directions (count the number of times the balls were passed around). Instead, I was focused on the quirky way the players were moving around.

The point was that one’s memory is busy storing what it thinks is most the relevant information. In the first switcharoo case, it’s the directions. In the second, it’s filling out the form. Conversely, you’re less likely to pay attention to what you don’t consider relevant, like what the person giving the directions looks like. Interestingly, an issue autistic people have is that they aren’t filtering on relevance, leading to all sorts of social miscues and obsession with tiny details.

Very cool stuff.


science, gorilla, illusions

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