Scientific experiments don’t generally attract widespread attention. But the ‘Gorillas in Our Midst’ (1999) experiment of visual attention by the American psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris has become a classic. In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011), the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman highlights this experiment and argues that it reveals something fundamental about the human mind, namely, that humans are ‘blind to the obvious, and that we also are blind to our blindness’. Kahneman’s claim captures much of the current zeitgeist in the cognitive sciences, and arguably even provides a defining slogan of behavioural economics: in turn, as the economist Steven Levitt put it, ‘that one sentence summarises a fundamental insight’ about the life’s work of Kahneman himself. The notion of prevalent human blindness also fuels excitement about artificial intelligence (AI), especially its capacity to replace flawed and error-prone human judgment.
But are humans truly blind to the obvious? Recent research suggests otherwise. It suggests that this claim – so important to much of the cognitive sciences, behavioural economics, and now AI – is wrong. So, how could such an influential claim get it so wrong? [Continue reading…]