Whether we know it or not, we are all guilty of inattentional blindness, and it’s something we really need to be more mindful of.
Most of us would like to think that we’re pretty good at paying attention to the world around us – that we’re observant, detail oriented, and highly perceptive. But the truth is, we’re not. As shown by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in their now infamous Invisible Gorilla experiment, our minds don’t really work the way we think they do.
The two researchers have been studying inattentional blindness for over a decade. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, inattentional blindness is when we fail to notice something that is fully visible, though unexpected, because our attention is focused on other tasks, objects, or events. One of their more groundbreaking experiments occurred back in 1999.
Writing for Smithsonian Magazine in 2012, Daniel Simons stated: “In our best-known demonstration, we showed people a video and asked them to count how many times three basketball players wearing white shirts passed a ball. After about 30 seconds, a woman in a gorilla suit sauntered into the scene, faced the camera, thumbed her chest and walked away. Half the viewers missed her. In fact, some people looked right at the gorilla and did not see it.”
Simons went on to state that he decided to replicate the experiment in 2010, adding a few minor changes. Because of the success and fame of the previous experiment, the researcher knew participants would expect a giant gorilla to appear at some point. And they did notice it this time, but not the fact that a curtain that was right next to them changed colors.
This phenomenon has nothing to do with the limitations of our sight; rather, it has everything to do with the limitations of our minds. We tend to focus in on something that’s in front of us, but we can also miss things that are happening right under our noses if we’re not expecting them. On the one hand, this is beneficial because we can ignore distractions and keep on point. On the other, we may miss something crucial, simply because of inattentional blindness.
Right about now you may be asking yourselves, “How does any of this actually relate to therapy?” Think of it like this: Your expectations, or lack thereof, influence how much you pay attention to your interactions with others. For example, consider your relationships with the people in your lives.
If you are working on your marriage or relationship, you may unintentionally miss the small acts of kindness or generosity your partner could be trying to exhibit – simply because you’re not expecting it. Or if you have a disobedient child that is trying to rectify their behavior, you may not notice the small changes he or she is trying to implement to their behavior in an attempt to become better. In other words, if you’re not expecting these changes, will you notice when they happen?
Inattentional blindness is something we are all guilty of, but by being more aware, we can be more in tune with the how we interact with our world.
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