Monday, July 03, 2006

A cognitive psychologist and a guy in a gorilla suit go into a bar-like setting

Today's p.s.a. is "Know When to Say When...When You Can't See the Guy in the Gorilla Suit."

At least, that's the message I took after reading the result of a study reported in the Journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, which was that ...

People who were given a simple visual task while mildly intoxicated were twice as likely to have missed seeing a person in a gorilla suit than were people who were not under the influence of alcohol.

You might've thought that no matter how wasted you became, you couldn't possibly miss seeing a man in a gorilla suit. But "scientists" at the University of Washington Addictive Behaviors Research Center say you could be wrong. According to the press release celebrating this scientific breakthrough (which, by the way, was funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), their study is the first to show that visual errors caused by "inattentional blindness" are more likely to occur under the influence of alcohol.

As the press release stated,

This phenomenon occurs when important, but unexpected, objects appear in the visual field but are not detected when people are focused on another task.

One of the researchers described this effect in the following manner:

"Say you have been at a party and are driving home after having a couple of drinks. You don't want to be stopped for speeding, so you keep eyeing the speedometer. Our research shows that you will miss other things going on around you, perhaps even a pedestrian trying to cross the street." Possibly a pedestrian in an ape suit. Possibly even a pedestrian in an ape suit who removes his ape head and asks to hitch a ride to Reno.

In the study, 46 adults ranging in age from 21 to 35 were brought into what the report calls, "a bar-like setting." The Blarney Stone, for instance. Half the subjects were given alcoholic drinks (by a man in a bartender costume). The other half were given non-alcoholic beverages.

The press release went on -- and I quote liberally because, frankly, I can't make this stuff up:

After the volunteers had their blood alcohol levels measure by a breath test, they were taken to a computer monitor and asked to watch a 25-second film clip. The clip showed people playing with a ball, and the volunteers were told to count the number of times the ball was passed from one person to another. In the middle of the clip a person dressed in a gorilla suit appeared, walked among the players, beat its chest and then walked away. Afterward, the subjects were asked if they saw the gorilla. Just 18 percent of the drinkers said they noticed the gorilla while 46 percent of the sober subjects indicated they saw the gorilla.

Here are some facts that were left out of the press release but which were uncovered by the Gang of Four investigative team:

1) Some of the subjects got suspicious when their "drinks" were served in steaming beakers.
2) The guy in the gorilla suit was a promising adjunct professor of cognitive psychology who started to identify with the gorillas, abruptly left his profession, and joined the circus.
3) The other 54 percent of the sober subjects failed to notice the guy in the gorilla suit because they "see guys in gorilla suits all the time."
4) The film clip shown was from "Winning Baseball Fundamentals Starring a Guy in a Gorilla Suit," an instructional video used by the Kansas City Royals.
5) In an earlier study, these same researchers asked subjects to parallel park while a guy in a devil suit cavorted in their rear-view mirror.
6) The New Jersey State Police are now pulling over drunk drivers and asking them to "spot the gorilla."
7) In the future, the U. of Washington researchers hope to do a larger study testing inattentional blindness using a driving simulator, but a real gorilla.

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