Guy Tal • Invisible Gorillas

Did you notice the gorilla? A very interesting story about a phenomenon called the illusion of attention. Guy Tal tells us how our brains suppress sensory information selectively before we become conscious of it

Some years ago, scientists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons came up with an interesting experiment. They created a video showing two teams of basketball players; players on one team wore white shirts and players on the other team wore black. At the beginning of the video, the viewer is instructed to count the number of passes made by players wearing white shirts. After counting passes for a few minutes, the video comes to an end and the viewer is asked: “Did you notice the gorilla?”

Half way through the video, a person wearing a gorilla suit walks into the scene, bangs its chest and then walks away slowly. About 50% of viewers, preoccupied with counting passes, never notice it. Chabris and Simons named the phenomenon the illusion of attention.

We like to believe that if something interesting occurs in front of our eyes, our conscious mind will be aware of it. In truth, we are aware of far less than we believe we are. In fact, there are parts of our brains whose purpose is to suppress sensory information selectively before we become conscious of it. Our brain simply is not powerful enough to process everything that our senses detect. Moreover, we are quite bad at multi-tasking. The more things we try to pay attention to, the more we are likely to miss.

Many of us, I am sure, have spent time in the field with other photographers only to be ...

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About Author

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I am a full-time photographer, writer, and naturalist living and working in the Colorado Plateau – a scenic and diverse desert region of the western United States spanning an area larger than most countries and states.

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