Wednesday, July 11, 2007 07/11/07-Memory

In today's excerpt--research psychologists demonstrate yet again the frailty of human perception and memory:

"In an experiment taken straight from the pages of Candid Camera, researchers arranged for a researcher to approach pedestrians on a college campus and ask for directions to a particular building. While the pedestrian and the researcher conferred over the researcher's map, two construction workers, each holding one end of a large door, rudely cut between them, temporarily obstructing the pedestrian's view of the researcher. As the construction workers passed, the original researcher crouched down behind the door and walked off with the construction workers, while a new researcher, who had been hiding behind the door all along, took his place and picked up the conversation. The original and substitute researchers were of different heights and builds and had noticeably different voices, haircuts and clothing. You would have no trouble telling them apart if they were standing side by side. So what did the Good Samaritans who had stopped to help a lost tourist make of this switcheroo? Not much. In fact, most of the pedestrians failed to notice--failed to notice that the person to whom they were talking had suddenly been transformed into an entirely new individual. ...

"The point of these [types of] studies is not that we are hopelessly inept in detecting changes in our experience of the world but rather that unless our minds are keenly focused on a particular aspect of that experience at the very moment it changes, we will be forced to rely on our [very fallible] memories ... in order to detect the change."

Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness, Knopf, 2006, pp. 43-45.


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