If you haven’t experienced this one-and-a-half minute test yet, you should do yourself a favor and click play on the video below before reading any further. To be precise, the video is 1 minute and 21 seconds.
Did you watch it? Really? Because if you didn’t, you won’t get the punchline below.
This test was developed many years ago now and was followed by a book called The Invisible Gorilla. Most people, as many as 80% in some tests, failed to see the gorilla on the screen. They were so focused and yet so blind! How can anyone not see the gorilla on the screen?
But is it blindness? Like so much of behavioral science, especially in the realm of biases, this phenomenon is subject to interpretation. Failure to spot the gorilla must be bad, right? The test authors gave it a name: “inattentional blindness“. A name like that makes it sound like a problem, for sure.
A serious problem. After all, if they can’t spot the gorilla here, while operating the task at-hand, how could they spot things on the road? In the cockpit? On the surgeon’s table? In the boardroom?
Again, this is a problem.
Or it isn’t a problem. Others have rightfully said that this tendency isn’t blindness so much as it is proof of our ability to adhere to the task. When you start the video, you’re given the following instruction: “Count how many times the players wearing white pass the basketball.”
So what do you do? Like a good human, you follow orders. You fix yourself to the question (how many times do they pass the ball?) and search for the answer. You do this so well, in fact, that not even a random person in a gorilla suit can steer you from the course.
So is it blindness? Or is it focus?
It’s both, of course. But when left solely to the implied suggestion of the prevailing literature, we just dwell on the blindness. Much in the same way that we dwell on the negative aspect of any new information.
There is upside here. Celebrate the other half of this coin. We’re not blind. We’re powerfully selective.