Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Have you heard of the "opaque gorilla video"?

Recently the New York Times had an interesting article - Come Here Often? And by the Way, Did You Happen to Notice That Gorilla? (Hat tip: Cool Digest) James Gorman writes:

Cognitive science tells us we’re not even getting the straight dope from our ears and eyes because our brain is concocting a good story from the input.

(For the moment let’s not worry about who “we” are. Let’s assume that we know who “we” are.)

I can live with that. I imagine the brain as a writer dealing with raw information. You can’t give the reader just the facts, with no transitions or metaphors or narrative structure. So you create a story, or, perhaps, a column.

The woman in the gorilla suit is something else again.

I’m referring, of course, to the 1999 video known (to those in the know) as the “opaque gorilla video,” which is used in numerous studies of how people fail to see what is right in front of them. It is only 75 seconds long.

Six people, three in light clothes, three in dark, weave around and pass two basketballs, white clothes to white clothes and dark to dark.

In the middle of the video a woman (scientific reports have specified the gender of the hidden human) in a gorilla suit walks calmly through the group, stops briefly to pound her chest — although not in a very noticeable way — and then continues walking out of the video frame.

The whole article is pretty interesting. James Gorman had given enough clues that I was able to track down the video. Got to this site. Go down to the second major section, the second blue bar across titled Inattentional Blindess Examples. There are four versions. I got the last one, the "7.5 MB Applet opaque gorilla from Simons and Chabris."

I watched the video and very easily saw the gorilla. But I was intrigued, so I got the video ready. I had my wife sit in front of my computer. I told her: "There were two groups of people, three dressed in black and three dressed in white. They are passing basketballs back and forth. Count how many times the basketballs are passed." She watched the video and never saw the gorilla. I had her watch again, telling her just to watch and not pay attention the number of passes, and the second time through she saw the gorilla. Pretty freaky.

Another interesting set of videos are about a situation where one person asks another person for directions, and mid way through getting help the "lost" person is switched for another person. (This is the third section below the first blue bar.) About half the time the helpful person doesn't regonize there has been a switch.

There are a number of other interesting videos at this site. I'd be curious how many people don't see the gorilla.

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Hanley Family said...

ok, but I have a question. Is this studying how we interpret things, or is this demonstrating how quickly the brain turns off when watching television? I'm not positive the research is measuring what they claim as other research has shown the human brain to pretty much switch off within a few seconds of turning on the television.

Henry Cate said...

My understanding is it is more of the first. The focus was how our brains filter out some of what we see.

Hanley Family said...

I know that is what they are reporting, but how can we know that is really what they are seeing? I'm just a curious, always questioning person at heart, but I'm not sure that people missing things in television is necessarily directly related to what they are deducing from this.

Do you think the same results would happen with people sitting in the stands of the auditorium watching the same scenario? Our brains are engaged in a totally different way in real life than in tv viewing.

Janine Cate said...

When I watched the video segment and Henry asked me to count the number of times the ball was thrown, I took it as a personal challenge to not miss a throw. I was thinking that there was going to be some trick and only the really smart people would count all the ball throws right. So, I purposely only focused on the ball and nothing else. I was so surprised the second time when I watched the segment (not counting) and saw the gorilla.