I recently read a fascinating Mind and Matter column by Alison Gopnik in the Wall Street Journal. She reported on a study published in Psychological Science about how researchers, as part of an experiment, asked radiologists to look for abnormalities in a series of slides, something they routinely do as part of their profession.
What the radiologists didn’t know is that the researchers added an image of a gorilla to some of the slides. The radiologists were asked by the experimenters if they had seen anything unusual and 83% of them replied they had not. The researchers also used an eye tracking machine which revealed that, even when looking straight at the gorilla, they didn’t see it.
To quote the Journal: “This study is just the latest to demonstrate what psychologists call ‘inattentional blindness.’ When we pay careful attention to one thing, we become literally blind to others – even startling ones like gorillas.”
This gives a whole new perspective when a motorist says, “I never saw it” after they’ve collided with a motorcyclist. Perhaps, in fact, they really did see the motorcyclist but what actually happened was “inattentional blindness.” They weren’t thinking to look for a motorcyclist, so they didn’t see the motorcycle even though they may have been looking straight at it.
This doesn’t surprise me at all. I’ve long considered motorcyclists to be the “invisible gorillas” in the daily driving life of most motorists. We’ve understood for years how critical it is to get into the consciousness of motorists so they are thinking about us and looking for us while they’re driving so we’re not invisible to them.
But we need help to accomplish this, namely significantly more state and federal public education funds and campaigns to eliminate motorist inattentional blindness of motorcyclists.