Hocus Focus

Putting what you “see” in perspective

Some cognitive biases can pull the wool over our eyes like a skilled magician, convincing us certain things are “everywhere” (even though they’re not), or causing us to miss what’s plainly right before our eyes. But unlike the magician whose craft is aimed at entertaining us, these psychological phenomena can have more serious consequences if we aren’t aware of their influence.

🪄 Understanding the effects of where we place our focus from a cognitive standpoint will help us put our observations in proper perspective to help us make better decisions.

Selective Attention

When we see what we choose to see . . .

The spring right after the pandemic-related lockdowns, I got a little obsessed with noticing flowers. It surprised me how I couldn’t NOT notice them anymore. They were everywhere on my New York City sidewalks, and so bright!

And I thought of the invisible gorilla test. Have you heard of it?

It’s a test where participants are shown a video* with 6 players, 3 in white shirts and 3 in black shirts, passing a basketball 🏀 amongst each other. Participants are asked to count how many times the players wearing white shirts pass the ball. Meanwhile, a man in a gorilla suit walks through the players in plain sight, stops to face the camera and pound on his chest, then walks off.

Roughly half the participants in the original experiment missed the gorilla. But when test takers watch the video again, this time aware that there will be a man in a gorilla suit, they find it impossible not to see him.

🧠 Selective attention is the process that allows us to focus on one thing by essentially ignoring others.

👀 What we see has so much to do with where we place our attention, in ourselves, in others and the world around us.

🦍 We can miss a man running around in a gorilla suit if we are heavily focused elsewhere.

Ways we might miss the gorilla:

▪️ The beauty around us if we are too focused on the ugliness;

▪️ Opportunities if we are too busy counting and complaining about obstacles;

▪️People’s actual actions if we are too caught up on their words;

▪️Our own assets if we focus on the flaws;

▪️The version of ourselves our loved ones see but we can’t, until we look for it.

We might see what we are looking for instead of what could otherwise be obvious, so it’s best to choose wisely what we look for, and why.

✨ And when we focus on the things that benefit us and others, we might quite easily be able to ignore many of the things that don’t.

*You can find the video referenced above at http://www.theinvisiblegorilla.com/gorilla_experiment.html.

The Frequency Illusion

It’s not happening more. You’re just aware of it more.

Are you hearing or feeling there’s an increased occurrence of this or that lately?

Maybe there is, but maybe you are just noticing it more.

The information we consume and the things we are made “aware of” can make us think something is happening more often than it is.

🧠 Commonly referred to as the frequency illusion, this cognitive bias describes the tendency to notice something more often, once it’s been brought to our attention.

It’s the opposite of “out of sight, out of mind.”

Sometimes the effects are harmless, like noticing babies or puppies everywhere because you are “expecting” or planning to add a dog to your household.

⚠️ And other times it can exaggerate fears and concerns that have a ripple effect and bear heavily on important decisions such as news stories on:



▪️certain types of accidents, and

▪️other negative events impacting risk aversion.

Whatever you put at the forefront of your mind will often be the thing you see first as your mind sifts through all the stimuli in a given day.

Just something to bear in mind 😉.

For reflection:

❓What have you failed to see in the past, that you can’t NOT see, now?

❓When it comes to your professional or personal relationships, what do you find yourself focusing on and is focusing on this helping you or the relationship?

❓Where can you use selective attention to ease tension where there are differences, rather than escalate it?

❓Where have you recently experienced the frequency illusion in action?

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