All of us have a weakness when it comes to missing the little things when you are focused on something else, whether it’s driving down a road and you don’t see a car swerve into your lane and you cause an accident or you don’t miss an airplane flying in the background of a movie based in ancient times. We miss these things in our everyday lives because we are so focused on something else.
The word for this is inattentional blindness. We become so focused on the task at hand that we become “blind” to the things happening around us. Our brain filters out things that it doesn’t seem to think is important so we can focus all of our attention of what we need at that time.
The most famous study done with with this concept is the Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events.
In this study, people were asked to pay attention and the count the number of passes either the team in white completed or the team in black completed in four different videos. While the players were passing the ball, a woman with an umbrella or a man in a gorilla suit walked through. After each video was played the participants were asked if they noticed anything unusual in the video, and eventually, if they noticed the woman with the umbrella or the gorilla.
Overall, the woman with the umbrella was noticed more than the gorilla by the participants and the people who were counting the black team’s passes noticed the strange things more than participants counting the white teams passes.
Illusionists use this trick of the mind all of the time. in the video above, the magician is performing a trick with matches and playing cards, however, the things around you are changing. There were three changes in the video, a red hankie to a green one, his shirt swapping to a t-shirt, then he had a totally different assistant at the end, and all of these things happened while you were so focused on the trick.
The magician in the video had a real knowledge of the way that our brain works. He knew that by making us focus on the things he was doing with the cards and the matches that we would miss the changes that were happening right in front of our eyes. Magicians and illusionists use this all the time, by making you focus on something specific you are missing the small things that make up the actual trick.
By knowing that our brain works in this kind of way, we can become more aware in our everyday lives. We might be able to see the car swerve lanes and are able to avoid the collision or maybe even be able to spot the mistakes that a movie is making. Or maybe not, or brain has a way of factoring out what it thinks is not important and having us recognize only what we think we need to.