Missing gorillas. What?

What gorilla?
Back in my younger days, as an impressionable undergraduate, I was exposed to a now-famous experiment in attention.  Sitting in a lecture hall at Yale University, my Introduction to Cognitive Science professor, Brian Scholl, played the class this video.  Watch the video, do the task, then read on.

The task was simple.  Watch the ball, count the passes.  Don't be distracted by the players in the black uniforms, watch the players in the white uniforms. And, like most of my fellow over-achievers at Yale, I wanted to do this right.  So, I got really focused and did the task.

The task ended, and the results were summarized.  Thankfully, I thought, I did it right - I counted the correct number of passes for the white team.  Hooray!  However, the video soon prompted: "But, did you see the gorilla?" An audible murmur vibrated from the audience: a group equivalent of "WTF"?  Soon, the murmur was followed by gasps and giggles as the video was replayed in slow motion.  There, walking right through the scene, was some dude in a gorilla suit.  Almost everybody in the audience had missed him.

Oh, that gorilla.
In the video, the task was clearly defined: count the passes for the white team.  And, for that task, I did very well - a perfect score.  However, in life, our tasks are usually less well-defined.  In life, picking up new information, being observant and open-minded, is just as valuable as extreme focus.  This relates back to my recent thesis regarding attention: for some tasks, we need to be very focused; but for others, we need to be open-minded.  In other words, if we reframe the task of the video above to "be observant", then I failed miserably.

What does this mean at a practical level?  My interpretation is that we must consciously select a level of intensity for our focus depending on the task.  In addition, since life's challenges are often so poorly defined, we must be sure to get into an open-minded state from time-to-time.  Otherwise, we might miss a gorilla.

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