Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Test Your Awareness

Following up with the video we watched today in class about the basketball passing and gorilla, here is the video that I mentioned from the Transport for London:


  1. As an avid year round biker, I love this commercial! I'm still wondering though, what is the intended contribution to knowledge of the gorilla test? I know it proves that we don't notice things we're not looking for, but what does that mean in a societal context? That we all need to start paying attention to EVERYTHING?

  2. I think that Invisible Gorilla experiment should make individual members of society (and through their accumulated numbers, society as whole) more willing to admit the limitations of their perceptions. Many of us are less inclined to admit our omissions and mistakes if we believe we are alone in committing these errors. However, having some objective proof that such errors are common ("Everyone makes that mistake") gives us a potential defense against both external critics, as well as our internal critic. In making this statement, I am assuming that the experiment's authors, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, made use of the "systematic random probability sample" discussed by Luker (2010, p. 100-102), and that therefore their conclusions are generalizable to the population as a whole.

    There is a concept in psychology called Dunning-Kruger Effect, which one of its authors, David Dunning, described in the following way:

    There have been many psychological studies that tell us what we see and what we hear is shaped by our preferences, our wishes, our fears, our desires and so forth. We literally see the world the way we want to see it. But the Dunning-Kruger effect suggests that there is a problem beyond that. Even if you are just the most honest, impartial person that you could be, you would still have a problem — namely, when your knowledge or expertise is imperfect, you really don’t know it. Left to your own devices, you just don’t know it. We’re not very good at knowing what we don’t know. (Morris, 2010).

    The article from which this quote is taken also mentions Donald Rumsfeld’s statement on the limits of knowledge (“unknowns unknowns” etc.) which Prof. Galey discussed in his February 13 lecture (see under References for the article’s URL). The reality of the Dunning-Kruger Effect could be made less difficult to accept by the Invisible Gorilla experiment’s scientific confirmation that the human brain has its limitations. So rather than worrying about trying to notice everything, we should just accept that there will be factors that will be missed. If missing a factor causes a problem, we must be confident that we will handle the problem to the best of our ability if and when we become aware of its existence.


    Luker, K. (2010). Salsa dancing into the social sciences. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Morris, E. (2010, June 20). “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma: Something’s Wrong But You’ll Never Know What It Is (Part 1). Retrieved from

  3. I guess aside from actually proving that people don't notice things they aren't looking for, the goal is - like Michael said - to be aware that we're not noticing everything...and then to find ways to ask as thoroughly as possible what things might be affecting your study that you may not have accounted for (I would guess talking it over with all sorts of different people would be good for this. I think Luker mentions somewhere that it's good to talk over your ideas with someone who is outside the field). But Michael's right, you really can't account for absolutely everything.