I’m look­ing through you

Popular Science - - HEAD TRIP -

FO­CUSED AT­TEN­TION IS LIKE A SPOT­LIGHT IN a dark­ened room. Point the light on a small area, and the scene be­comes vis­i­ble. Open the lens to take in every­thing, and the rays be­comes too dif­fuse to see any­thing clearly.

A fa­mous Har­vard study proves this. In one vari­a­tion, psy­chol­o­gists had par­tic­i­pants count how of­ten play­ers in a cer­tain color shirt passed bas­ket­balls in a taped scene. Half­way in, a per­son in a go­rilla suit walked through for nine sec­onds. Af­ter, re­searchers in­quired: “How of­ten did your team pass the ball?” and “Did you see the go­rilla?” Most guessed the cor­rect passes, but 50 per­cent didn’t spot the pri­mate.

Sub­se­quent eye-track­ing stud­ies con­firmed their eyes met the cos­tumed man, but par­tic­i­pants weren’t wrong in claim­ing they never saw it. At any mo­ment, an area of our vis­ual cor­tex de­ter­mines what’s im­por­tant, fil­ter­ing out every­thing else as if they were never there. Those who stopped count­ing the num­ber of passes most of­ten saw the go­rilla.

Study au­thor Chris Chabris says we should em­brace this vis­ual hic­cup when tempted to mul­ti­task: We gain so much by fo­cus­ing, why lose it to no­tice every­thing?

By Claire Maldarelli

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