A new study into "inattentional blindness" shows that even the experts can overlook the strangest things when they are concentrating on something else. Take a look at this picture. It shows a section of a CT scan of a lung: Did you notice anything odd about it?
Three psychology students at the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston have carried out a study on a group of radiologists, which showed that when analysing CT images, only 4 out of 24 trained specialists were able to see the image of a dancing gorilla that features in the top right of the scan. (I should point out, 25 adults who had no medical training also took the test. All of them failed to see King Kong up there.)
The eye movements of all the volunteers were tracked as they examined 5 CT scans, each comprised of hundreds of images of the patients’ lungs, one slice at a time.
Each case had about 10 nodules somewhere in them (indicating the possibility of cancer) and the radiologists were instructed to click on each nodule with a mouse at their computer. The gorilla was sneaked into 5 consecutive slides on the final patient’s CT. The idea was to see if the volunteers were so focused on looking for the nodules, that they would be blind to the anomaly of a gorilla in the midst.
Apparently, they were. The eye tracking data show that most of those who reported not seeing the gorilla had in fact looked right at it – including 12 of the 20 radiologists. Trafton Drew, who ran the study, said: “The majority of them looked directly at the gorilla for extended periods of time. They just don't see it.”
However, as Virginia Hughes (a blogger for the National Geographic’s Phenomena section) pointed out, “As you’d expect (and hope!), the radiologists in the study were far better at spotting the cancer nodules than were the non-experts, with success rates of 55 percent and 12 percent, respectively.”
Although I found the whole study interesting (and pretty funny), I was most struck by the summary statement by Trafton Drew: “The consequence of focusing your attention really tightly is that you may be prone to missing things which may be pretty obvious in retrospect.” (quote from the CBS News website).
This got me to thinking – how often do we get too bogged down in the minutia of things, and fail to see the bigger picture?
So, my mission for tomorrow is to take a step back, and look for the metaphorical dancing gorilla, and see if it helps!
Incidentally, if you too think that you have problems looking at the bigger picture, you should probably check out the original “Dancing Gorilla” experiment from 1999.
Worryingly, 50% of volunteers fail to spot the gorilla here too…