In detail

Selective attention: the gorilla experiment

Selective attention: the gorilla experiment

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In 1975, researchers Ulric Neisser, Neisser and Becklen, carried out an experiment of selective attention. This experiment consisted in the visualization of a video in which several people passed two balls between them. The instructions were to count the number of passes that occurred between those who wore the black shirt. However, in the middle of the video, a woman appeared walking among the other individuals. What was the point of the woman? Let's keep going!.

In 1999, at Harvard University, Chrisopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, repeated the experiment with minor modifications. The woman crossing the screen became someone dressed as a gorilla. Here you have the link to the original video (although with the instructions in Spanish). But why did this experiment become so famous? Because, as with the previous woman, a large number of individuals said they had not seen the gorilla crossing the screen. Do you want to know more? Let's get started!


  • 1 What's behind all this?
  • 2 When driving, do not use the mobile
  • 3 Final reflection on selective attention

What is behind all this?

This experiment has not gone unnoticed in psychology research. So a team of psychologists from the University of Utah investigated this phenomenon of Attention selective Jason Watson, one of the researchers states that "People who see the gorilla are better able to focus their attention. They have a flexible approach, in a sense. "

Simons and Chabris tried to show the limitations of the perception human And among these limitations was the appearance of an unexpected object that escaped our eyes. This phenomenon was called "unintentional blindness"In the words of Simons and Chabris: "When people devote their attention to an area or aspect of their visual world, they tend not to notice unexpected objects, even when these are outstanding, potentially important and are in front of our sight ".

"The study of the gorilla illustrates two important facts concerning our minds: we can be blind to the obvious, and also blind to our blindness."

-Daniel Kahneman-

The authors add that "The subjects concentrate so much on counting the passes that go blind to the gorilla in front". Simos and Chabris say that several experimental subjects were angry when they were told that the video was the same. That is, many subjects of those who did not see the gorilla in the first exposure to the video thought they were deceived. To what extent can our selective attention blind us so much?

When you drive, do not use the mobile

This experiment is especially relevant in the use of mobile phones at the wheel. Show that the attention cannot attend 100% to two tasks at the same time. Although we are fully convinced that although we look at the mobile behind the wheel, we continue to control the road, our attention is greatly reduced. That is why, so damaging to attend to our mobile device when we drive.

For this reason, it is so important to pay 100% attention to the task we are doing. Above all, when it comes to something as delicate as drive. Simons says that "The more you focus on what you expect to see, the less likely you are to see the unexpected". In this way, it shows that when we take care of our cell phone while driving, we are less likely to see a pedestrian or any other unexpected stimulus.

"There is an unlimited amount of information in the world, but our ability to handle the information is quite limited."


Simons also offers some essential phrases about the capacity of our attention: "There is an unlimited amount of information in the world, but our ability to attend to information is quite limited. If you are limited in the number of things you can pay attention to and attention is the gateway to consciousness, you can only be aware of a limited subset of what's out there ".

As the researcher indicates, we can only attend one "limited subset of what's out there", this is, or we attend the mobile or we attend the car. How many accidents have occurred due to the use of the mobile behind the wheel? What number of accidents have been recorded by a small mistake behind the wheel?

Unfortunately, the data prove this type of experiments right. Bartolomé Vargas, deputy prosecutor of Road Safety, said in 2018 that the use of mobile phones is the main cause of accidents in our country. Without a doubt, a fact to reflect.

Final reflection on selective attention

This experiment, beyond driving, also reflects that we are missing more things than we think. When we observe an event with attention, we tend to disregard other stimuli that appear unexpectedly before our eyes Although they are prominent or striking. This suggests several questions about selective attention and our perception of reality.

On the one hand, how many debates arise around whether an event has taken place? Several people claim that someone carried out incorrect behavior, however, another number of people say no. Who is right? If observing the same scene, different subjects are unable to agree with a specific event, how can we be so sure of what our senses tell us? And ultimately, How can we be so sure of what we think we know?