Originally published in illume magazine.
Do you think if you were intensely watching a basketball being passed during a game you’d notice if someone dressed as a gorilla came onto the court? Most of us would cry "Absolutely" but most of us would be wrong. The phenomenon, famously tested in the gorilla scenario by researchers in 1999, is known as “inattentional blindness,” says Dr. Rocco Gennaro, professor of philosophy. “It occurs when a subject is not conscious of objects within their vision field because they are paying close attention to something else.”
The idea that we are consciously aware of most things in our field of vision is a myth that holds true when it comes to multitasking (i.e., driving and texting, watching TV and talking with a friend). Although most of us think we’re capable of doing a number of things at one time, research shows 98 percent of us are not only incapable of such actions, but we’re not performing any of the tasks we’re engaged in well. Gennaro describes the ability to focus our attention in terms of a bottleneck. “The idea is that attention acts as a kind of bottleneck in the brain’s information-processing capacity. Attention is what selects or filters information to pass through limited-capacity bottlenecks,” he says. “We obviously cannot pay attention to everything all the time.”