It was a warm late September morning as I was heading to meet my cousin for brunch at the Gulu Gulu cafe in Salem. Other than going with the purpose to enjoy her wonderful company, I also had an ulterior motive.
I recently finished up a Sociology course and one of the topics that piqued my interest was change blindness. This is a failure to notice the difference between what’s here in the now and what was there a moment ago.
We watched a video where two people were talking in a room. The camera continued to pan in and out as clothing was changed, tablecloths were swapped in and out going from green to yellow, pictures were replaced in the background, etc. The video was played back a second time and we were able to see all we had missed – how much was there one moment and what had changed in the next.
I decided I would try to conduct a little experiment of my own. I met my cousin in front of the cafe, gave her a hug and sat down across from her at an outdoor table.
On arrival, I wore a black, long-sleeved v-neck cotton shirt and a silver necklace. After ordering lunch we became fully engaged in conversation and after 15 or 20 minutes, I told her I was going to the ladies room and I would be right back.
I changed my black t-shirt to a purple t-shirt. Other than the color, the shirts were identical. I also changed my necklace from silver to gold. I then went back to the table and picked up our conversation where we had left off.
About 10 minutes went by and I asked my cousin if she’d like to hear what my next post was going to be about and she was happy to listen. I asked if she had ever heard of change blindness and she had not. I told her, “Imagine if things were visually changing right in front of you that you weren’t even aware of. For example, what if I told you I had on a black shirt and silver necklace when I got here . . .” And as I was saying this, I pulled out from my purse what I had been wearing when I first saw her. Her instant reaction? She was shocked! Then we both had a good laugh and a lot more discussion on the topic.
There’s also something called inattentional blindness, which is when you’re unable to notice something that is clearly right in front of you when your attention or focus is on something else.
Here’s a 59 second clip to demonstrate. Odds are you’ve already seen this since it’s been around awhile, but it’s worth seeing it again. And if you have seen it, come on, fess up that you didn’t notice what was going on the first time around. I know I didn’t!
Professor Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois says that with inattentional blindness, it seems like we’re taking it all in – everything is going on around us, but the brain is actually filtering out those things that aren’t relevant. What is left is that which personally makes sense to us. Our brains can only take so many stimuli; therefore this filtering process is a necessity that allows us to function.
Do You See What I See?
So how can change or inattentional blindness effect sound judgment? For those of you who watch the show Blue Bloods, this post is rather timely.
On season 4, episode 4, The Truth About Lying, Jamie’s partner Eddie makes an arrest of a robber who’s caught stealing a smart phone. The arrest was caught on video and what Eddie reports (that she took the stolen phone from the perpetrator’s back pocket) doesn’t match what is shown on the video (that the perpetrator threw the smart phone out in front of him and Eddie grabbed it from the street), making it look like she might have lied to the DA about an important detail in the arrest. Erin, the Assistant District Attorney, is bound by duty to bring it to the attention of her father Frank, the Chief Commissioner and Amanda Peterson the new Inspector General, who despite the Chief Commissioner’s objections, is strongly pushing for Eddie to be fired for the offense. Eddie is given a number of opportunities to recant her statement, but she holds to it, convinced it was the way she remembered it to be.
Frank agrees to fire Eddie under one condition. The Inspector General has to go through the motions of a simulation where she must use her skill and wit to overcome gunmen under stressful conditions. At the end of the simulation, Amanda is fuzzy on the details of the scene.
- Frank asks, “What color shirt was the first assailant wearing?”
Amanda answers: Blue
Right answer: Red
- Frank asks, “What kind of weapon was the third perpetrator carrying?”
Amanda answers: A Glock
Right answer: A knife
- Frank asks, “How many times did you fire?”
Amanda answers: 7 and then she changes it to 8.
Right answer: 16 shots
Frank ends the scene with the following: “Funny how your mind can play tricks on you when your life is on the line.” Amanda’s mind filtered out everything other than what it thought was absolutely necessary to defeat the perpetrators. Eddie didn’t end up losing her job.
We may live in a world that is more gray than black and white. It is wonderful when someone has a stong opinion and they believe in a just cause, but perhaps we might consider being a bit more tolerant with one another and ourselves. What we perceive may not necessarily match up identically to what another perceives and maybe the truth lies somewhere in-between.
Would love to hear your thoughts,
most especially if you think it can help others!
Take what flows for you and let the rest float by.