Wednesday, July 05, 2006

You Make A Good Point...But...

Ok, I just saw something on the news that (as usual) pissed me off.

Here’s the thing. ‘Scientists’ did a study where they gave people enough alcohol to get them to half the legal limit, and told them to watch a video of people throwing basketballs to each other. They had to count how many times the basketball was passed.

During the video, a man in a gorilla suit appears and waves at the camera before leaving the shot. Something like 80% of people failed to see the gorilla.

The ‘scientists’ are calling this ‘blind drunk’ and are using it to illuminate how even a little booze seriously effects you.

Now this is all well and good, apart from one thing.

I’ve previously seen a study were people were shown exactly the same video, while stone cold sober and even then around 80% of them failed to see the gorilla.

This was originally a psychology experiment showing that we don’t actually see everything we think we do. We’re aware of what we need to be aware of, and our brain just fills in the blanks for the things we don’t need.

Think of it this way, if we were consciously aware of everything our senses are telling us, we’d be so overwhelmed by the onslaught of stimuli, we wouldn’t be able to function. The feel of the clothes on our bodies, every little sound, smell and taste…we wouldn’t be able to handle it. So our minds have a sort of filter that blocks out anything we don’t need to know.

As an example of this filter in action, have you ever been at a party or in a crowded room, and been completely unaware of someone else’s conversation until you hear your name mentioned?

If you want an example of an experiment to prove this, get three or four people to stand in a line and just start talking about different subjects. If you don’t focus on a single person, you can’t understand what anyone is saying, but as soon as you focus on one voice, you understand them perfectly, and filter out the others.

Another experiment on the above study proved this also. They had a man, wearing distinctive glasses, a yellow hard hat, clipboard and pen to approach people on the street and ask for directions. Halfway through the conversation, they had actors, posing as construction workers, pass between them carrying a large board. As the board passed, the original guy left and was replaced with a completely different person, but still wearing the glasses, hard hat and carrying a clipboard and pen.

Again, around 80% of people didn’t notice that they talked to two different people.

So how does this explain the guy in the gorilla suit? Simple. The test subjects were in a situation were they were required to focus on a single element. Anything else would distract them from the task at hand and the gorilla suit guy was only on the screen for a matter of seconds.

As a final example, if you’re a regular reader you’ll have seen this page a hundred times. Without looking, what color is this page’s title, and is my cartoon avatar guy next to my profile wearing glasses or not?

A lot of you will have had difficulty answering those questions, despite the fact they were on your screen minutes ago, and you’ve seen them a good few times before.

The simple truth is that it’s not necessary for you to notice those facts, so you don’t until you have to.

So what’s my point?

My point is that this whole ‘Blind Drunk’ study is absolutely and totally meaningless. It’s just a psychological principle that’s been hijacked to ‘prove’ something different.

Now, I’m willing to cut these guys some slack, because they’re fighting against drunk driving, but how about in future you just do a study that actually proves your point?

It all comes back to junk science. They attempted to use this study to ‘prove’ that drinking until your blood alcohol is half the legal limit makes you miss important details. This study could also be said to prove that people who breathe air become ‘gorilla blind’ or that ‘Taking part in scientific studies lowers your ability to see guys in gorilla suits by 80%’.

Hell, if this study is true, I’m waiting until Christmas time, waiting for Christmas night when everyone gets good and drunk, and breaking into their houses dressed as a gorilla.

I’d clean up. I’d be practically invisible.

1 comment:

mistyforeverlost said...

They would have been better off with the whole "this is an egg...this is your brain on drugs" but switched it up to "this is your body, this is your body after an accident" test.