Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Daniel Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness:

In today's excerpt--research psychologists demonstrate yet again the frailty of human perception and memory:

"In an experiment taken straight from the pages of Candid Camera, researchers arranged for a researcher to approach pedestrians on a college campus and ask for directions to a particular building. While the pedestrian and the researcher conferred over the researcher's map, two construction workers, each holding one end of a large door, rudely cut between them, temporarily obstructing the pedestrian's view of the researcher. As the construction workers passed, the original researcher crouched down behind the door and walked off with the construction workers, while a new researcher, who had been hiding behind the door all along, took his place and picked up the conversation. The original and substitute researchers were of different heights and builds and had noticeably different voices, haircuts and clothing. You would have no trouble telling them apart if they were standing side by side. So what did the Good Samaritans who had stopped to help a lost tourist make of this switcheroo? Not much. In fact, most of the pedestrians failed to notice--failed to notice that the person to whom they were talking had suddenly been transformed into an entirely new individual. ...

"The point of these [types of] studies is not that we are hopelessly inept in detecting changes in our experience of the world but rather that unless our minds are keenly focused on a particular aspect of that experience at the very moment it changes, we will be forced to rely on our [very fallible] memories ... in order to detect the change."
Maybe, but this seems a weak sort inference. At the very least, it would suggest that at the moment we are accosted by a questing stranger our attention goes first to his or her words, because the verbal gambit challenges us to stand and seek information within, then to deliver. Upon delivery attention may shift from verbal to visual or other sensory facts.

It's not about memory - we remember quite well what we were asked. It's simply that for many of us, an encounter with a person is before all else an encounter with words.


Blogger Juke said...

Also - the cognitive dissonance requires a jump toward WTF! and consequent maybe necessity to self-detrimental action.
Safer to play it as it's laid out than challenge what is immediately obvious as a far superior reality-rearranging force that has you directly in its sights.
Because if they can shift interlocutors on a dime....

7/13/2007 12:39 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

The obscure subject of desire?

7/13/2007 12:45 PM  

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