The silent gorilla: Intense concentration leaves us 'deaf' to the world around us

June 20, 2012
Participants failed to notice 'gorilla man' in new experiment

(Medical Xpress) -- Concentrating closely on a conversation can leave us ‘deaf’ to other sounds, reveals Dr Polly Dalton from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London.

Participants in her experiment – the first of its kind - completely failed to notice a clearly audible ‘gorilla man’ when they were paying attention to a different conversation.

“We’re much less aware of the world around us than we tend to think” says Dr Dalton. “This research demonstrates that we can miss even very surprising and distinctive sounds when we are paying attention to something else.”

The video will load shortly.
The video above is a slightly edited version of the full experiment, for demonstration purposes. The full version of the experiment repeated the scene a second time, and contained prompts at several points to answer questions about the scene. In the experiment, the screen was completely blank while participants listened to the scene. Credit: Attention lab

Dr Dalton and research associate Nick Fraenkel created a lifelike, three-dimensional auditory scene, containing one conversation between two men and another between two women. Halfway through the recording they introduced a ‘gorilla man’, who walked through the scene repeating the phrase “I’m a gorilla!” for 19 seconds. People who were concentrating on the men’s conversation were much better at detecting the ‘gorilla man’, but most of those listening to the women’s discussion completely failed to notice him at all.

Dr Dalton says: “The ‘invisible gorilla’ effect, where people fail to see a person in a gorilla suit walking through a basketball game, is now quite well-known. Our study provides the first demonstration of a similar ‘silent gorilla’ effect in hearing.

“We were surprised to find such extreme effects with a listening task, because people often think of hearing as an ‘early warning system’ that can alert us to unexpected events that occur out of sight. The fact that a lack of attention can cause people to miss even distinctive and long-lasting sounds questions this view. This has real-world implications in suggesting, for example, that talking on your mobile phone is likely to reduce your awareness of traffic noises.”

The research, funded by the ESRC, is published in the journal Cognition.

Explore further: ANU philosopher urges consensus on 50-year debate

Related Stories

ANU philosopher urges consensus on 50-year debate

December 20, 2011
(PhysOrg.com) -- Misinterpretation of a key scientific concept has led to decades of fierce debate according to an Australian National University philosopher.

Hearing theory music to MP3 generation ears

December 1, 2011
The revival of a 150-year-old theory on how the human ear protects itself from damage caused by loud sounds could lead to better noise protection says a researcher from The Australian National University.

Men have a stronger reaction to seeing other men's emotions compared with women's

December 7, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Men have a stronger response to seeing other men show emotion than when women show emotion, according to new research from Queen Mary, University of London.

Men get ahead for being 'disagreeable' in the workplace; women don't

August 4, 2011
In the workplace they do, according to new research co-authored by University of Notre Dame Management Professor Timothy Judge. But there also is a double standard for women and, yes, a pay gap.

Recommended for you

New study rebuts the claim that antidepressants do not work

August 18, 2017
A theory that has gained considerable attention in international media, including Newsweek and the CBS broadcast 60 minutes, suggests that antidepressant drugs such as the SSRIs do not exert any actual antidepressant effect. ...

Should I stay or should I leave? Untangling what goes on when a relationship is being questioned

August 17, 2017
Knowing whether to stay in or leave a romantic relationship is often an agonizing experience and that ambivalence can have negative consequences for health and well-being.

Kids learn moral lessons more effectively from stories with humans than human-like animals

August 17, 2017
A study by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto found that four to six-year-olds shared more after listening to books with human characters than books with anthropomorphic ...

History of stress increases miscarriage risk, says new review

August 17, 2017
A history of exposure to psychological stress can increase the risk of miscarriage by upto 42 per cent, according to a new review.

Study finds children pay close attention to potentially threatening information, avoid eye contact when anxious

August 17, 2017
We spend a lot of time looking at the eyes of others for social cues – it helps us understand a person's emotions, and make decisions about how to respond to them. We also know that adults avoid eye contact when anxious. ...

Communicating in a foreign language takes emotion out of decision making

August 16, 2017
If you could save the lives of five people by pushing another bystander in front of a train to his death, would you do it? And should it make any difference if that choice is presented in a language you speak, but isn't your ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.