Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Missing the gorilla

18.04.2011
Why we don't see what's right in front of our eyes

University of Utah psychologists have learned why many people experience "inattention blindness" – the phenomenon that leaves drivers on cell phones prone to traffic accidents and makes a gorilla invisible to viewers of a famous video.

The answer: People who fail to see something right in front of them while they are focusing on something else have lower "working memory capacity" – a measure of "attentional control," or the ability to focus attention when and where needed, and on more than one thing at a time.

"Because people are different in how well they can focus their attention, this may influence whether you'll see something you're not expecting, in this case, a person in a gorilla suit walking across the computer screen," says the study's first author, Janelle Seegmiller, a psychology doctoral student.

The study – explaining why some people are susceptible to inattention blindness and others are not – will be published in the May issue of The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

Seegmiller conducted the research with two psychology faculty members – Jason Watson, an assistant professor, and David Strayer, a professor and leader of several studies about cell phone use and distracted driving.

"We found that people who notice the gorilla are better able to focus attention," says Watson, also an assistant investigator with the university's Brain Institute.

'The Invisible Gorilla' Test for Inattention Blindness

The new study used a video made famous by earlier "inattention blindness" research featured in the 2010 book "The Invisible Gorilla," by Christopher Chabris, a psychologist at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., and Daniel Simons, a psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The video depicts six actors passing a basketball. Viewers are asked to count the number of passes. Many people are so intent on counting that they fail to see a person in a gorilla suit stroll across the scene, stop briefly to thump their chest, and then walk off.

Seegmiller, Watson and Strayer did a new version of the older experiments, designed to determine the reason some people see the gorilla and others miss it.

Why are the results important?

"You can imagine that if you're driving and road conditions aren't very good, unexpected things can happen, and individuals with better control over attention would be more likely to notice those unexpected events without having to be explicitly told to watch for them," Seegmiller says.

Watson adds: "The potential implications are that if we are all paying attention as we are driving, some individuals may have enough extra flexibility in their attention to notice distractions that could cause accidents. That doesn't mean people ought to be self-distracting by talking on a cell phone while driving – even if they have better control over their attention. Our prior research has shown that very few individuals [only 2.5 percent] are capable of handling driving and talking on a cell phone without impairment. "

Strayer has conducted studies showing that inattention blindness explains why motorists can fail to see something right in front of them – like a stop light turning green – because they are distracted by the conversation, and how motorists using cell phones impede traffic and increase their risk of traffic accidents.

Linking Working Memory to Inattention Blindness

A key question in the study was whether people with a high working memory capacity are less likely to see a distraction because they focus intently on the task at hand – a possibility suggested by some earlier research – or if they are more likely to see a distraction because they are better able to shift their attention when needed.

The new study indicates the latter is true.

"We may be the first researchers to offer an explanation for why some people notice the gorilla and some people don't," Watson says.

Working memory capacity "is how much you can process in your working memory at once," Seegmiller says. "Working memory is the stuff you are dealing with right at that moment, like trying to solve a math problem or remember your grocery list. It's not long-term memory like remembering facts, dates and stuff you learned in school."

The researchers studied working memory capacity because it "is a way that we measure how some people can be better than other people at focusing their attention on what they're supposed to," she adds.

The Utah study began with 306 psychology students who were tested with the gorilla video, but about one-third then were excluded because they had prior knowledge of the video. That left 197 students, ages 18 to 35, whose test results were analyzed.

First, the psychologists measured working memory capacity using what is known as an "operation span test." Participants were given a set of math problems, each one of which was followed by a letter, such as "Is 8 divided by 4, then plus 3 equal to 4? A."

Each participant was given a total of 75 of these equation-letter combinations, in sets of three to seven. For example, if a set of five equations ended with the letters A, C, D, G, P, the participant got five points for remembering ACDGP in that order. After each set of equations and letters, participants were asked to recall all the letters of each set. A few participants scored a perfect 75 score.

Participants had to get 80 percent of the math equations right to be included in the analysis. That was to ensure they focused on solving the math problems and not just on remembering the letters after the equations.

Next, the participants watched the 24-second Chabris-Simons gorilla video, which had two, three-member basketball teams (black shirts and white shirts) passing balls. Participants were asked to count bounce passes and aerial passes by the black team. Then they were asked for the two pass counts and whether they noticed anything unusual.

To remove a potential bias in the study, the researchers had to make sure the people who noticed the gorilla also were counting basketball passes; otherwise, people who weren't counting passes would be more likely to notice the distraction. So only video viewers who were at least 80 percent accurate in counting passes were analyzed.

The Utah psychologists got results quite similar to those found by Simons and Chabris in their original study in 1999: of participants who were acceptably accurate in counting passes, 58 percent in the new study noticed the gorilla and 42 percent did not.

But the Utah study went further: Again analyzing only accurate pass counters, the gorilla was noticed by 67 percent of those with high working memory capacity but only by 36 percent of those with low working memory capacity.

In other words, "if you are on task and counting passes correctly, and you're good at paying attention, you are twice as likely to notice the gorilla compared with people who are not as good at paying attention," Watson says. "People who notice the gorilla are better able to focus their attention. They have a flexible focus in some sense."

Put another way, they are better at multitasking.

Future studies should look for other possible explanations of why some people suffer inattention blindness and others do not, including differences in the speeds at which our brains process information, and differences in personality types, the Utah psychologists say.

For a link to the gorilla video, see: www.theinvisiblegorilla.com

University of Utah Public Relations
201 Presidents Circle, Room 308
Salt Lake City, Utah 84112-9017
(801) 581-6773 fax: (801) 585-3350
www.unews.utah.edu

Lee Siegel | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.utah.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Antarctic Ice Sheet mass loss has increased
14.06.2018 | Technische Universität Dresden

nachricht WAKE-UP provides new treatment option for stroke patients | International study led by UKE
17.05.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Temperature-controlled fiber-optic light source with liquid core

In a recent publication in the renowned journal Optica, scientists of Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena showed that they can accurately control the optical properties of liquid-core fiber lasers and therefore their spectral band width by temperature and pressure tuning.

Already last year, the researchers provided experimental proof of a new dynamic of hybrid solitons– temporally and spectrally stationary light waves resulting...

Im Focus: Overdosing on Calcium

Nano crystals impact stem cell fate during bone formation

Scientists from the University of Freiburg and the University of Basel identified a master regulator for bone regeneration. Prasad Shastri, Professor of...

Im Focus: AchemAsia 2019 will take place in Shanghai

Moving into its fourth decade, AchemAsia is setting out for new horizons: The International Expo and Innovation Forum for Sustainable Chemical Production will take place from 21-23 May 2019 in Shanghai, China. With an updated event profile, the eleventh edition focusses on topics that are especially relevant for the Chinese process industry, putting a strong emphasis on sustainability and innovation.

Founded in 1989 as a spin-off of ACHEMA to cater to the needs of China’s then developing industry, AchemAsia has since grown into a platform where the latest...

Im Focus: First real-time test of Li-Fi utilization for the industrial Internet of Things

The BMBF-funded OWICELLS project was successfully completed with a final presentation at the BMW plant in Munich. The presentation demonstrated a Li-Fi communication with a mobile robot, while the robot carried out usual production processes (welding, moving and testing parts) in a 5x5m² production cell. The robust, optical wireless transmission is based on spatial diversity; in other words, data is sent and received simultaneously by several LEDs and several photodiodes. The system can transmit data at more than 100 Mbit/s and five milliseconds latency.

Modern production technologies in the automobile industry must become more flexible in order to fulfil individual customer requirements.

Im Focus: Sharp images with flexible fibers

An international team of scientists has discovered a new way to transfer image information through multimodal fibers with almost no distortion - even if the fiber is bent. The results of the study, to which scientist from the Leibniz-Institute of Photonic Technology Jena (Leibniz IPHT) contributed, were published on 6thJune in the highly-cited journal Physical Review Letters.

Endoscopes allow doctors to see into a patient’s body like through a keyhole. Typically, the images are transmitted via a bundle of several hundreds of optical...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Munich conference on asteroid detection, tracking and defense

13.06.2018 | Event News

2nd International Baltic Earth Conference in Denmark: “The Baltic Sea region in Transition”

08.06.2018 | Event News

ISEKI_Food 2018: Conference with Holistic View of Food Production

05.06.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Graphene assembled film shows higher thermal conductivity than graphite film

22.06.2018 | Materials Sciences

Fast rising bedrock below West Antarctica reveals an extremely fluid Earth mantle

22.06.2018 | Earth Sciences

Zebrafish's near 360 degree UV-vision knocks stripes off Google Street View

22.06.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>