Morning Nugget – Focusing Your Attention, Part 3

Invisible Gorilla demonstrating selective attention
Invisible Gorilla demonstrating selective attention


Let’s keep looking at Optimizing Brain Fitness by The Great Courses! [Go here to start at the beginning of this topic of attention.]

We have a visual blindspot. It’s where the optic nerve leaves the back of the eyes and goes into the brain. We have a psychic blindspot too. It’s the things we don’t pay attention to. Our picture of reality is inherently incomplete. Most of the time we don’t realize how much we miss. We think we see more than we do, and that has consequences.

There was a selective attention test conducted at Harvard University in 1999 by Simons and Chabris in which 6 people passed a basketball around- half were in white shirts and the other half were in black. People were asked to count how many passes were made between the team in white. During the passes, someone dressed in a black gorilla suit walked through the game, and believe it or not, half of the people asked to count passes never noticed the gorilla! This has become one of the best-known experiments in psychology, and the book The Invisible Gorilla was written to “explore the limits of human intuition.”

Attention failures are especially serious in our current culture dominated by fast-response technologies. Firing off an email or text before thinking about consequences, or answering a cell phone while driving along the freeway at 70 mph are examples. During that 1/10 of a second distraction, you’re involved in a fatal accident.

If your attention failure is a chronic one, you may be suffering from ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Perhaps attention disorder is a consequence of our technologically fast-paced society.

As a mom of four children, ages 11 and under, I have noticed a personal change in the past decade, other than more jiggles and gray hair. 😉 It seems I have a harder time remembering some things. It could be the lack of sleep some days, or the constant interruptions entwined with raising little ones. But now that my youngest is 4 years old, things are normalizing a bit and my sleep schedule is more consistent, which means I am finding my concentration has improved. Hallelujah!

So, whats the takeaway here? Well, as a parent, you could try to carve out a few minutes each day to focus on a book or learning something for your own benefit.

You could also show the video of the gorilla walking through the basketball game to your kids, but open the screen all the way so they don’t see any heading title about the gorilla. Ask them to closely focus on the number of passes between people in white shirts, secretly watching to see if they notice the big gorilla.You can then talk about how easy it is to miss things around us.

I’m off to show my kids the gorilla video, but one at a time so they don’t give it away to each other.

I hope you have a great day of focus!

Until tomorrow…

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