Pseudofacts, Misperceptions & Illusions

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In their book “the Invisible Gorilla”, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons identify a number of common illusions which affect the decisions we make every day, sometimes to our dismay or even harm. These illusions lead us to false conclusions based upon pseudo truths and misperceptions:

The Illusion of Attention

gorilla basketball gameThis illusion exists because we believe we process all of the detailed information that surrounds us all of the time when the reality is we know vividly some aspects of our world and are completely unaware of other aspects that fall outside our center of attention.This inattentional blindness occurs when your attention is focused on one area and you fail to notice unexpected objects. The pair of psychologists ran a now-famous experiment in 1999 where people intensely focused on a basketball game between two teams dressed in black and white jerseys failed to notice a female student dressed in a full gorilla suit who walked across the middle of the court during the game, stopped, faced the camera, thumped her chest, and walked off. She was on camera for 9 seconds of the less than a minute video. Roughly half of the people performing the experiment failed to notice the gorilla even as the experiment has been repeated many times, under different conditions, with diverse audiences, and in multiple countries.

The Illusion of Memory

How we think memory works and how it actually works are completely different as we explored in an earlier chapter. The illusion exists because what we think we remember and what we actually remember are not the same. According to the authors, memory doesn’t store everything we perceive, but takes bits and pieces of what we see and hear and associates with what we already know. These cues – like “tags” on a blog – help us retrieve the information and put together, making our memory more fluent. Some memories can be so strong that even documentary evidence that it never happened doesn’t change what we remember.
Some readers may recall an incident in 1997 when a basketball player at University of Indiana accused Coach Bob Knight of choking him during a practice and had to be restrained by two coaches. All of the participants in the incident and the witnesses, other players at the practice, had different memories of the event when questioned, some directly contradictory to others. Sometime shortly after the incident, a videotape of the practice surfaced. Surprisingly, none of the memories were correct and a few completely distorted the actual event. Yet there is no evidence that anyone lied or deliberately embroidered their story; they all suffered from false memories.One cause of false memories is change blindness, the failure to compare the present with the past or how something has changed. Most of us operate under the presumption that if we didn’t recognize a change, we should have noticed it because people are blind to their own change blindness.