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It was a famous psychology experiment from 1999.

If you haven’t seen it before, see how well you can concentrate while watching this short video. (RSS readers may need to click through to view.)

The authors of the study how have a new book out: The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us, by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons.

The book was recently cited by Harvard psychologist and bestselling author Steven Pinker, who argues (contra Carr and others) that things like Google aren’t really making us stupid.


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32 thoughts on “How Good Are You at Counting?”

  1. Steve says:

    I counted 14 passes (missed the first quick one while identifying everyone wearing white), AND noticed the gorilla! Sweet!

  2. Jacob says:

    What does it mean if I got distracted by the gorilla and miscounted? . . . er . . . if someone happens to do that.

  3. Warren says:

    I saw the gorilla, so what does that mean?

  4. Joshua says:

    From: http://chronicle.com/article/The-Trouble-With-Intuition/65674/ written by the same authors:

    “The finding that people fail to notice unexpected events when their attention is otherwise engaged is interesting. What is doubly intriguing is the mismatch between what we notice and what we think we will notice. In a separate study, Daniel Levin, of Vanderbilt University, and Bonnie Angelone, of Rowan University, read subjects a brief description of the gorilla experiment and asked them whether they would see the gorilla. Ninety percent said yes. Intuition told those research subjects (and us) that unexpected and distinctive events should draw attention, but our gorilla experiment revealed that intuition to be wrong. There are many cases in which this type of intuition—a strong belief about how our own minds work—can be consistently, persistently, and even dangerously wrong.”

    Summary, the question is not whether or not you saw the gorilla but the question is whether or not you would have guessed (intuition) beforehand that a gorilla walking across the screen would distract you or make you notice. The conclusion is that we overestimate our ability to recognize things while performing other tasks and that everyone has a limit to the things they can concentrate on and still be distracted by the gorilla.

  5. Mandi Jo says:

    All I know is that when I saw the gorilla it made me laugh. And I counted 16 passes.

  6. I counted 13 direct passes from hand to hand and 2 bounce passes. Once I saw the first bounce pass I didnt think they counted so I separated them. Once I realized there were 15 total I realized they all counted…..I got 15 and I noticed the gorilla!

  7. Chuck says:

    15 and saw the gorilla.

  8. Tom says:

    I counted 14 passes and saw the gorilla and John Piper.

    1. Steve says:

      LOL!!!

  9. Jon says:

    I counted 15 and saw the gorilla. This whole test seems contrived. What’s the benefit in knowing whether or not we think we might notice the gorilla? All that matters is whether or not we do. Also, they seem to have a lazy definition of intuition. Noticing a gorrila, or thinking you’ll notice a gorilla is not intuition.

    Intuition is the the ability to think multidimensionally about seemingly unrelated things in order to arrive at a cohesive whole.

  10. Matthaeus Flexibilis says:

    I saw that op-ed by Pinker when it was published, and it turned me on to the new book on mind and body by Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer-winning novelist-philosopher and Calvinist who has been featured here several times (including a mention of the then-future mind/body book). Here’s a review and a relevant excerpt (it’s the chapter “Thinking Again” mentioned in the review).

    Pinker is just the sort of reductionist Robinson takes to task in her lectures-turned-book.

  11. Brian Current says:

    counted 15 and didn’t see the gorilla AT ALL.

    1. Alex says:

      Same here.

  12. I counted 16 and yes I saw the gorilla.

  13. I counted 16 and yes I observed the gorilla as soon it come into the picture. Seems like if I focus too much i over count???

  14. chuck shanks says:

    You saw John Piper? Too funny… was waiting for someone to follow that up with, “I see dead people”

    I counted 15 passes, and barely saw the gorilla as he was walking off screen… just barely. Totally missed the chest thumping. LOL.

    Chuck

  15. Tyler says:

    I definitely saw the gorilla and wondered if that was the point of the video and kind of got lost in my counting – so I watched it again and I’m pretty sure there are 16 passes not 15.

  16. Jacob says:

    What does it mean when the people who created the video got the number of passes wrong? :-)

  17. Jim Upchurch says:

    16 and saw the gorilla.

    Then I clicked through to the Op-Ed piece… but I only scanned it… what did it say? :)

  18. I counted 5 double-dribbles and 2 travels.

  19. Mike Garner says:

    saw 15 and TOTALLY MISSED the gorilla lol

  20. Squinancywort says:

    Yes, saw the gorilla. Though I saw 14 passes, when asked how many passes did you count? I thought actually, I feel I should go with 15 passes, at the beginning they probably sneaked a quick pass in I didn’t count. So I went with there were 15 passes.

  21. John Anderson says:

    Yep, I saw sixteen passes and a man in a bad gorilla costume!

  22. Christopher says:

    I watched it twice and counted 16 both times. And saw the gorilla both times.

    I think it’s 16, not 15.

  23. ryan vinten says:

    yeah I’ve watched it twice too and I’m pretty sure there’s 16!

  24. David Filson says:

    The gorilla should have been called for excessive celebration.

  25. Terry says:

    When this first came out there was no preamble about if you would seee the gorilla so I saw it without knowing about any gorilla and… I totally missed it, had to see it again and was dumfounded at how I could miss such an obvious thing!!

  26. James Winfrey says:

    Counted 16 the first time and saw the gorilla.

    Watched it three more times and there were DEFINITELY 16 passes.

    Looks like we better better attention than the people who made the video.

  27. Drew says:

    I can’t help but wonder if we are at an advantage by viewing it on a small screen. If I had blown it up to full size and my eyes had to move more, I might have missed something more easily. Just thinking.

  28. Patrick says:

    I’m not familiar with Pinker’s use of blindsight cases, but in most of the literature in philosophy of mind and cognitive science, where it is typically discussed, the gorilla test (and the many others like it) is a test about the nature of consciousness, often taken to debunk the standard view that visual (e.g.) representation is as rich as it phenomenologically seems to be. Many philosophers of mind and cognitive scientists take such cases of blindsight to be evidence that conscious awareness (in this case, visual representation) is gappy and filled in by further brain processes. Conscious representation, then, is not so much like a photograph of external stimuli, but a patchwork of visual clues and cognitive expectations. This book is a good summary of the uses of blindsight in philosophy: http://www.amazon.com/Blindsight-Nature-Consciousness-Jason-Holt/dp/1551113511

    btw the first time I saw it a few years ago, I did not see the Gorilla.

  29. Joel says:

    I like this video illustrating the same concept better – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ahg6qcgoay4

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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