The invisible gorilla experiment has become a classic in psychology. Although it was first performed in 1999, it is still cited as a typical example of the limitations of perception. It also illustrates how people don’t like to accept that they are often blind to the world around them.
The creators of the invisible gorilla experiment, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, never imagined that this experiment would spark such curiosity and become so popular. It has been replicated countless times, in different countries and with people of all ages and education levels, with very similar results.
If you want to do the experiment yourself, watch the following video (in English) and follow the instructions before reading on. The rest of the article will make more sense if you do this!
- Just count the number of times the team with the white shirts tosses the ball to each other.
- You have to be observant and consider both airborne and ground transfers.
- Take the test and then read on.
The Invisible Gorilla Experiment
In a few paragraphs above, we gave you the same instructions that Chabris and Simons gave to a group of student volunteers before doing the experiment.
When the participants had finished watching the video, they were asked the following questions (answer them yourself if you have watched the video):
- “Did you notice anything unusual when counting the number of passes?”
- “Aside from the players, did you notice anything else?”
- “Or did you notice anyone other than the players?”
- “Have you seen a gorilla?”
The last question was the question that most surprised the volunteers of the invisible gorilla experiment, at least at 58%. Every time the experiment is repeated, this percentage is more or less the same. Yes, there was a gorilla in the video, but more than half of the people didn’t notice. Did you notice?
The reactions to what is happening
The first time the invisible gorilla experiment was conducted and the times after, most of the participants who didn’t notice the gorilla’s presence were amazed at how obvious it all was! It seemed impossible to them that they had overlooked something so evident.
When asked to watch the video again, they all see the gorilla without any problem. Some think they have seen two different videos, but of course that is not the case.
This experiment won the Ig Nobel Prize. This is an award given to those scientific activities that ‘first make you laugh and then make you think’.
Why are so many people blind to such a clear image in the video? That is the big question that arises from this. It is also striking that so many people refuse to accept that their eyes and their perceptions are deceiving them. They think they see everything correctly and yet they have not observed anything so obvious.
The Traps of Perception
Researchers Steve Most and Robert Astur conducted a similar experiment years later. In this case a driving simulator was used. The volunteers were told to stop if they arrived at an intersection and saw a blue arrow there. However, if they saw a yellow area, they didn’t have to stop.
However, when the volunteers performed this activity, two motorcycles passed in front of the simulator. If the motorcycle was blue, the virtual drivers noticed it and stepped on the brakes. In the yellow motorcycle, nearly 60% hit the driver. Somehow, the results of the invisible gorilla experiment were replicated.
What happens in these cases is that people focus their attention only on the point that interests them. In the first case on the white team’s ball and in the second on the blue arrow. In their minds they focused all their attention on the color. Because the gorilla was black and some motorcycles were yellow, the volunteers didn’t notice that element.
This is because some people can only focus on one variable at a time, while others have a broader and more flexible pattern of attention. For example, this is why you should never answer your phone while driving.