Even If You Know About The Gorilla, You Might Not Catch The Unexpected

from the did-you-see-it? dept

There’s a very famous perception experiment, which many of you have probably seen. If you haven’t, you should watch it here before reading on:

I will admit that the first time I saw it (at a conference), I totally missed the gorilla. Totally. Of course, once you’ve seen it or know about it, it’s hard not to see it. And, by this point, so many people have seen it, that the overall video test has lost much of its power. So the folks behind it decided to see what would happen if they knew you were looking for the gorilla, and came up with the following:
Basically, they assumed that people were now looking for the gorilla, and got people to more or less focus on that, and miss the “new” changes. Once again, I have to admit I totally missed the changes. As the researchers are pointing out, this suggests that even if you’re “expecting the unexpected,” it’s often difficult to notice it actually happening. As the researchers behind the videos note, many of the folks out there who use their original video to teach people to “expect the unexpected” are missing the point:

“A lot of people seem to take the message of our original gorilla study to be that people don’t pay enough attention to what is happening around them, and that by paying more attention and ‘expecting the unexpected,’ we will be able to notice anything important,” he added. “The new experiment shows that even when people know that they are doing a task in which an unexpected thing might happen, that doesn’t suddenly help them notice other unexpected things.”

The guys behind the videos have done some other unique experiments as well, which you can find on their website. The other one I really like is this experiment involving a guy asking a pedestrian for directions, where the guy asking for directions is secretly “switched” with someone else in the middle, and 50% of people don’t even notice:

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Even If You Know About The Gorilla, You Might Not Catch The Unexpected”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Steven (profile) says:

I almost got it.

This is the first time I’ve seen this. Got the gorilla in the first one. Noticed the black player left in the second one, but didn’t catch the color change.

Did get the right count both times though. 🙂

Very interesting. I’m wondering though if somebody was to watch the video more than once, without the explanation, if they would be more likely to catch the unexpected, or if they would continue to miss it.

Matthew Stinar (profile) says:

Re: Where's the controversy?

And I’m so used to Techdirt commenters ridiculing every one of Mike’s posts like it was a sport that I was surprised to find positive and engaged readers.

To your point, however, I’m sure there’s someone out there who can figure out how to abuse the system to suppress this research. Perhaps a bogus DMCA takedown or other claims of IP infringement?

Pwdrskir (profile) says:

The Pussy switch

Perspective has been a media favorite and magic’s friend forever. Perfect example is the uproar about the Sharrod video. The truth is the media, WH and NAACP all screwed up and are now trying to play off their screw up by


us with the racism hand, when the other hand is holding their combine incompetence for not verifying the facts before roasting Shirley alive.

I too didn’t see the Gorilla the first time I saw this video a few years ago and didn’t notice the curtain change this time. Yahoo had some puzzles posted on the main page and one that is truly enlightening to our malleable perspective is the “Rotating Pussy”. I found this illusion before reading the story and have been working the Pussy for sometime now with great enjoyment. The trick is to use your peripheral vision.

Optical Illusion “Rotating Pussy”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The Pussy switch

Yahoo had some puzzles posted on the main page and one that is truly enlightening to our malleable perspective is the “Rotating Pussy”.

Take a look at Techdirt’s default silhouette avatar (for example, see Mr. Block, above). Is the figure facing towards you or away from from you? With some practice, you may be able to perceive it either way.

Anonymous Coward says:

This reminds me of a dialogue from the Discworld game, I don’t remember very well how it went but it was something like this:

Wizard: My advice to you is that you should always expect the unexpected.
Rincewind: But how can it be unexpected if I am always expecting it?
Wizard: Good point. Then my advice to you is to always expect the expected.

Gozza says:

Bad experiment.
We’re talking about language (or only semantics) as much as perception when we say: “an unexpected event”.

An event, or occurence, is not the gradual change of a colour (which was painfully obvious I might add), this is as much an event as are the patterns of shadow changing on the ground because of moving clouds. No we don’t generally describe this as an event.

The person leaving could be seen as an event (didn’t see it the first time), but it has no influence over the proceedings.

A gorilla stepping into the group is something of a completely different magnitude.

“Notice changes” would be a better description for what happens instead of “notice unexpected events”, which is misleading.

The guy asking for directions switcharoo has been done by about every candid camera show ever. So that’s hardly worth a mention… in fact, most of invisible gorilla’s work I find very uninspired.

By comparison, the little whodunnit video (at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubNF9QNEQLA) is an amazing example of what human perception can miss.

PrimeSonic says:

An audio analogy

You’re in a room full of 50 dozen people, you’re asked to hold a conversation with the person in front of you. Then, after you leave, you’re asked to retell about the conversation the person half-way across the room was having.
Since you could technically “hear” them, then why couldn’t you remember what they were talking about?

These “awareness” tests are a bunch of bull. They simply show how we humans process information selectively so as to not become overwhelmed by it. The room full of people having conversations is no different that looking at the team passing the ball and then the gorilla shows up. Sight is no different than sound in this respect when it comes to information.

There is no way you can become more “aware” so that you’d perceive every minute change around you. And even if you could somehow be altered to be that “aware” you’d be unable to function normally due to all the sensory overload you’d be trying to cope with.

These guys are showing a well done experiment but draw stupid conjectures from them.

Josef says:

Not quite getting it

I don’t think many people paid attention to the title of the test. It’s a selective attention experiment.

You are directed to focus your attention on a task and that is what causes you to miss obvious changes in the scene. If the instructions were changed then you could expect that more people would notice the “unexpected”.

Anonymous Coward says:

How this applies to patents

This is interesting stuff. I think it applies to the obviousness question that frequently comes up with patents. Some missed the gorilla, some did not. But once you know about the gorilla then the gorilla is truly obvious. The same exact thing happens with patents, what is obvious today might not have been obvious yesterday.

freak (profile) says:

Re: How this applies to patents

I don’t think this has anything to do with obviousness in the least.

Misdirection is a completely different thing than hindsight, and patent examiners have many more times to look over everything.
If you were show the video twice, even with the part explaining the gorilla taken out, I think pretty much everyone would catch the gorilla.

There are many, many ways this analogy fails horribly.

R. Miles (profile) says:


I agree the article’s title ruined the first video. I was actually looking for the gorilla the whole time.

But when the second video was introduced, I knew there was something else going to come of it. Oddly enough, a tall blonde wearing black was just too damn good looking to stop looking at, and I watched as she left the game completely unrelated to the test at hand.

The third video I’ve seen before, so it wasn’t a surprise to see the outcome. The 50% was the bigger surprise. This number has grown in the 20 years since I last saw the test.

I guess in today’s world, if it’s not electronically given to people, it’s worthless to pay attention to it. Just like driving. Why care about other drivers when there are so many other gadgets one can play with while driving.

Oh well. I’m sure when I die, my casket will pop up 2 message boxes asking if it’s okay to really bury the box, come with malware protection so my bones don’t rot away faster, and my tombstone will read “To read the text for this marker, please visit the nearest app store and pay $1.99 to view it. Oh, and it’s copyright, bitches!”

Gene Cavanaugh (profile) says:

Invisible Gorilla

The question is, do the people who don’t notice lack perception, or do the people who do notice lack the ability to focus? I think the latter.
Einstein was often “dinged” for perpetually not noticing things, such as, “get off the train here to go home”. I submit he did more than the people who always got off at the right station.

Rob (profile) says:

None of this really surprises me

What’s the point? I understand this is interesting from a scientific point of view and kind of fun to learn about, but so what. Perhaps it’s more of a surprise that 50% actually noticed the changes.

An interesting corollary is that once you have a belief you will notice evidence that supports that belief but fail to notice evidence which refutes it. I think we see that kind of thing in the comments on this site a lot.

And I notice that I do this all the time, so I’m not just talking about people I don’t agree with. It goes for the people I do agree with … and me too. Realizing this lets me be slightly more objective, I think.

Lyle says:

Its this seeing what you expect that leads to some motorcycle/auto and bicycle/auto accidents. They driver says ” I never saw …”. He/She did not see because they were not expecting to see it. (This is why bicyclists wear bright colors as they stand out). Its the same thing in economics, the black swans were there but not seen. Its a well known problem with our perception in a lot of areas. Recall cant see forest for trees…

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...