Book Review: The Invisible Gorilla

Inattentional blindness is increasingly recognized as one of the most interesting phenomena in the field of psychology. According to the experiment conducted by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, an average person may not see the gorilla in front of him/her, if his/her attention is otherwise engaged. This failure can be explained by the fact that when counting basketball passes, the aspects of the game automatically capture individual’s attention and, therefore, such an unusual object as the gorilla goes unnoticed. As a result, an individual is dramatically affected by six illusions on a regular basis: the illusion of attention, knowledge, confidence, memory, potential and cause. This important finding provided the framework for further research in this area. The following book review of Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ work, “The Invisible Gorilla”, includes the detailed summary of three illusions, regarding memory, knowledge and cause, along with the analysis of the presentation and significance of author’s ideas.

By giving vivid examples of striking mental blindness, Chabris and Simons claim that these distorted beliefs may ultimately cause real-world problems. The main purpose of the following book is not only to illustrate the zero-sum nature of attention but to demonstrate how these illusions affect human affairs. As a matter of fact, the researchers suggest practical implications for everyday life along with the guidelines on how these mechanisms of attention can be coordinated.

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Needless to say, people strongly dislike when their pre-existing beliefs are challenged. Even if an individual fully realizes that his intuition is misleading, he/she remains stubbornly resistant to any changes in previously-held views. The researchers wrote this work with the hope that a person will clearly understand that he/she is heavily affected daily by these illusions and, thus, become far more aware of reality. In other words, the book might help to control ones’ thoughts and temper ones’ reactions. The psychologists use examples of flawed intuitive belief as evidence that human nature is far from being perfect. They emphasize that even if the illusions cannot be eliminated, the awareness that they frequently occur can change how people perceive themselves and others. After all, the book teaches its readers to be more tolerant, understanding, forgiving and humble.

In “The Invisible Gorilla” the authors advance two major theories, change blindness and inattentional blindness, which suggest surprising examples of how humans can be unaware of the visual world surrounding them. It becomes abundantly clear that the concepts of change and inattentional blindness are interconnected and interdependent. Importantly, Chabris and Simons draw a distinction between these two phenomena. In such a way, while inattentional blindness occurs in an individual, when the events are unexpected and unusual, change blindness is associated with a change in the visual stimulus that goes unnoticed. The study, however, does not appear to be over-ambitious in its claims, as long as the authors offer the examples of the distinction between the theories. The focus is, therefore, wider than just a presentation of the concepts. Chabris and Simons delve further into the real-world problem these phenomena cause. In the process they explain, for example, how the police officer could not notice a brutal assault right in front of him or why award-winning and nominated films contain a large number of editing mistakes.

The book promotes a certain view that human brains are physical systems and thus have finite resources. Thus, fundamental limitations of human brains are demonstrated by reflection of memory functioning. Clearly, in the course of time memory becomes distorted by individual’s views, interests and desires. Simply by narrating the event, people distort the memory, as it is not the original experience will be remembered but the narration itself. Nevertheless, people continue to consider memory as an objectively truthful system that retrieves accurate information. This illusion explains why people take eyewitness testimony so seriously, especially when the witness is absolutely confident. Additionally, the authors give the example of Hilary Clinton’ speech during presidential campaign in 2008, where her memory about visiting Bosnia was profoundly distorted. Memory of an event that happened more than ten years ago became misleading and hence kissing a child transformed into the imaginary event of coming under sniper fire. Chabris and Simons highlight the fact that the media should not have repeatedly criticized the incident, since the capacity of human memory is strictly limited.

Other illusions presented by the researchers concern knowledge. According to the survey nearly 65 percent of Americans consider themselves more intelligent than an average citizen. The following finding shows that people are affected by the illusion of knowledge and, as a rule, are unaware of its limits. To put it simply, an individual tends to habitually overestimate his/her knowledge. Consequently, such self-confidence may result in impaired decision-making. What is more, the illusion of cause is another consideration. Again, statistically an average person tends to infer cause and effect, when the event happened by chance. The difficulties arise, when there are many interconnected causes for one single outcome. Under such circumstances overwhelming scientific evidence shows that people fail to properly determine cause and effect relationship.

It is worth admitting that authors cite numerous examples to support their arguments, which makes readers more receptive to the ideas they present. Thus, the book contains the references to historical figures, politicians, scientists, and psychologists. Moreover, vivid examples of everyday illusions make a reader recognize problematic situations he/she encounters on a daily basis. Logical argumentation adds additional weight to the authors’ claims, so that readers become aware that illusions exist and change in their attitudes is urgently required. Significantly, Chabris and Simons’ arguments rely heavily on the research data, so that the book can be considered as an academically reliable piece of writing.

It has become increasingly apparent that authors’ ideas discussed earlier make several noteworthy contributions to the field of modern psychology. In the past decades far too little attention has been paid to such areas as visual cognition and awareness, which is why their research provides a framework for the exploration of human memory and attention. The reviewed book enhances an understanding of how the mechanisms of brains are working and, therefore, gives a valuable insight into human decision-making process.

Each theme tackled in “The Invisible Gorilla” is closely related to the overall purpose: teaching readers to understand their own actions and to respond to the illusions that profoundly influence their everyday life. Furthermore, the description of the limits of human memory, attention, perception and visual cognition suggests that people should be more tolerant towards each other. All in all, Chabris and Simons in their thought-provoking book “The Invisible Gorilla” help to minimize the impact of inattentional and change blindness, so that a reader could acquire the true strength of the mind. Ultimately, a reader, who is searching for informative and educational piece of literature, will be pleased to enter into a direct dialogue with Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons to find the truth about the abilities of human brains.

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