On Being Absolutely Certain-and Wrong


videos (some very humorous) that demonstrate these types of blindness.

The most well-known of the experiments in this field is the invisible gorilla experiment . In this experiment, you watch a video of several people, some in white shirts and some in black shirts, tossing two balls around. You're directed to silently count the number of tosses among the people in the white shirts. As they toss the balls around, a gorilla (or at least a confederate dressed as a gorilla) saunters right through the circle of ball-tossers. It stops in the middle, beats its chest, and walks away.

Do you think you'd see the gorilla? Most people say, absolutely, no question about it. And, maybe you would see it. But, about half the people who participate in the experiment are so preoccupied counting the balls that they missed the gorilla. Even people who are forewarned about the gorilla (such as you) sometimes watch the video and don't see it.

Try it yourself at the link above. Even if you see the gorilla, might you have missed it if you didn't know about it, as was the case for the research participants? Much as I wish I could say otherwise, I'd have been among those who didn't see it. I'd have been so focused on counting and so determined to get the count right that I'd have missed the gorilla altogether-just as I missed seeing my gate as A52.

What intrigues me about my departure gate situation is that I wasn't blind due to being distracted by something else; I was blind due to being distracted by my belief about what I'd see. As the research demonstrates, we sometimes see little of what's going on around us and easily miss essential information that's right in front of us. (Yet another reason not to text while driving.)

In preparation for future travels, I'm taking a remedial course in my ABCs.

About the author

Naomi Karten's picture Naomi Karten

Naomi Karten is a highly experienced speaker and seminar leader who draws from her psychology and IT backgrounds to help organizations improve customer satisfaction, manage change, and strengthen teamwork. She has delivered seminars and keynotes to more than 100,000 people internationally. Naomi's newest books are Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals and Changing How You Manage and Communicate Change. Her other books and ebooks include Managing Expectations, Communication Gaps and How to Close Them, and How to Survive, Excel and Advance as an Introvert. Readers have described her newsletter, Perceptions & Realities, as lively, informative, and a breath of fresh air. She is a regular columnist for StickyMinds.com. When not working, Naomi's passion is skiing deep powder. Contact her at naomi@nkarten.com or via her Web site, www.nkarten.com.

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