The Invisible Gorilla deals with the limitations of our cognitive functions.
- We can’t always fully rely on our cognitive functions
- Intuition, being based on our cognitive functions, can’t always be trusted
- Many of us tend to overestimate our capabilities and skills -especially those with little skills!-
Chabris & Simon says that sometimes self-help books tell us to trust our intuitions and gut feelings -like Gladwell’s Blink for example-.
They make the case instead that our intuitions has many limitations and we shouldn’t be trusting our “gut instincts” all that much.
We Believe We See More Than We Do
Usually we notice what’s unusual. But that also means that we miss a lot of what appears to be usual.
And if we are very intent observing or paying attention to something, then we are likely to miss also something very catchy, conspicuous and unusual.
The authors for example devised the gorilla experiment.
They told people to count how many times the players pass the ball to each other.
Then they would have a man dressed as a gorilla walk smack in the middle of the experiment for 9 seconds and beat his chest.
A full half of the people were so focused on counting the ball passes that they didn’t notice the gorilla.
We See What We Expect to See
Similarly, sometime we are so focused on looking for a specific item tat we fail to see anything else happening around.
The authors say that 65% of car-motorcycle accident happen because cars turning into driveways fail to spot the motorcycle.
It’s not that the weren’t looking, but they were looking for cars. And they failed to recognize the oncoming motorcycle.
Our Memory Is Not Accurate
The author’s survey revealed that 47% of people believe memories don’t change.
And 69% believed that memories are like videos accurately portraying all that actually happened.
But that isn’t the case.
We forget a lot, obviously.
But sometimes we also make up memories.
Some other times we remember without important details.
And other times we remember adding some details.
For example one experiment had students read 15 associated to sleep like “slumber,” “drowsy” and “tired.”
However the word “sleep” wasn’t there, but when students were told to recite the words they read, they inserted “sleepy” in there.
That happened because we are more concerned about meaning than exact words.
Failure of Source Memory
Another interesting phenomenon related to memory is the “failure of source memory”.
That happens when people tell a story that happened to them but that actually never happened to them.
It’s simply happened to a friend of theirs, or they heard it a few times, and they make it their own.
More than half of people believe they are smarter than the average.
Which of course makes little sense since 50% would be average or below.
What’s most interesting though is what came out of a survey of chess players.
Chess players are ranked internationally along a point system. And the majority of them thought they were underrated by at least 100 points.
And the interesting point: the lower the skills of the players, the more they thought they overestimated their skills.
More Confidence Doesn’t Mean More Skills
But unluckily, the more people act self-confidently, the more we tend to believe and trust their skills and knowledge. A famous experiment at the University of Rochester showed that doctors that gave a prescription without looking up the disease were rated as more trustworthy than doctors who didn’t look up the disease.
But the doctors who took the time to double check were right more often.
This is one of the reasons why charismatic men tend to draw such a major following: they look secure and people trust them.
We Know Less Than We Think We Do
The more we are familiar with something, the more we believe we “know” it.
However most people failed to accurately depict the functioning of a bike, and probably most of us have no idea how a toilet actually works.
We also tend to overestimate our understanding of a topic if we receive lots of information about it.
However lots of information can often leads us astray as we get lost in the noise of the short term -also read The Signal and the Noise-.
We See Causation Where There is None
Humans look for patterns.
And end up seeing a lot of them. Often, where there are no patters at all.
We are most at risk of seeing non-existing patterns when two events happens at the same time.
Then our brain immediately goes “ah, this happened, it must because of that”.
The Invisible Gorilla Video
Real Life Applications
Watch Out For Over-Confident Individuals
Those who looked overly confident are either really well prepared or… They don’t know squat.
Don’t Trust Those Who Believe They’re Underrated
It’s often those with the lowest skills to believe they deserve more and they are being unfairly judged (albeit keep in mind this might not always be the case and of course many can indeed be unfairly judged).
Needless War on Intuition?
The authors take aim at intuition right from the title. However, the biases they talk about do not necessarily disprove intuition or its usefulness.
It feels both that it’s an unneeded war against intuition that, at the end of The Invisible Gorilla, there is not such a strong, specific case against it.
The invisible gorilla experiment was an interesting one, and the other experiments the authors describe are mostly interesting.
But it feels padded and The Invisible Gorilla could have all been briefer
Some Good Insights
Even as an avid reader on psychology I learned a couple of good things. Like why so many cars fail to see motorcycles.
However, I find it better tan the latter two.
Still, for most people with a keen interest on psychology, most of the content will not be new. But I found a few new tidbits here and there.