Inattentional Blindness

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Last week in discussion, we talked about inattention blindness and not seeing things right in front of our faces. We were shown an example of some people passing a basketball back and forth, while a bear moonwalked across the screen.
While on Facebook this week, a post came up with an article about a musician. He played six Bach pieces on the violin for about 45 minutes in a metro station during rush hour. Roughly 1100 people were in the station during that time. A few people stopped and listened for a few minutes, and children were pulled away from listening by their parents to keep walking. In his 45 minutes of playing, he made $32 and received no applause or recognition after he finished.
The violinist was none other than Joshua Bell. He is one of the most talented musicians in the world, and was playing one of the most intricate pieces ever written on a 3.5 million dollar violin. Two days earlier, Bell sold out at a theater in boston where the seats averaged $100.
If one of the top musicians in the wold can play one of the best pieces of music on an instrument that expensive and not be noticed for who he really is, what else is happening in the world that we are simply passing by without a second glance?


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People seem to learn that if they see a musician playing in a public place, like a metro station, that this person must be looking for money, not a good musician, or more. We don't expect to see a world-class musician in a metro station nor do we probably have time to stop and really enjoy the music. Unlike at a theater where the purpose of attending it just to sit and listen. Too bad all those people at the metro station missed out on a concert of a lifetime (for free)!

This was really interesting to me and it made me wonder what kind if things I have missed in my life. If I apply something like this to my life it begs the question, how often do I miss really important things? I know a lot of times I'll be driving and I'll end up missing the exit to my house by about 5 miles although I've taken it a thousand times. Another time I've noticed inattentional blindness is when I'm listening to the radio. A song I don't like will come on and in the process of trying to change the station my favorite song will come on but I'll be so bent on switching stations I won't even notice until someone points it out.

I think this is an interesting piece, not just because it brings up an interesting insight to how busy we, as a society, are right now, but also because it brings up a good point of how our brain can skew our perceptions based on previous knowledge. In this case, when people saw/heard someone in a metro station playing music, it seems as though maybe their brains didn't really listen to the music or see the violin that he was playing on, but simply took in just enough sensory information to remind them of previous experiences where they heard music in a metro station. Those previous experiences, which were, most likely, from homeless people playing trying to make a living, caused their brains to jump to the conclusion that this experience must be like all of the other experiences in a sort of similar way that our brains will fill in the missing pieces of a picture or word to make it look whole based on our previous experiences with similar stimuli. Great find!

This story shocked me. It is also interesting how we tend to pass by something so noticeable. I also believe the setting may have caused people to just walk by. In metro station seeing a person play for money tends to make some people uncomfortable and to just walk by. I think people tend to turn the other way from people who are begging. If this man had been playing in a theater people would value his music but he was playing at a station so his music was not valued. In this case I think the in attentional blindness was due to the setting not Joshua.

I think this has more to do with setting rather than anything else. I am curious if this would be the same case if the opposite were to happen. Get someone who is a below average musician to play in a very large arena and see if people would like the music only because the setting and price tells them that they should. I would also like to blame the setting because lots of people wont sit and listen for prolonged periods of time because they are in a subway which means they are looking to go somewhere. If you see someone playing in public like that you assume that they aren't famous but there talents could only get them so far. I am not surprised that no one noticed his real talent because Josh Bell was out of his element. It is interesting to see that setting has so much to do with how talent, things, people, etc are perceived.

I agree with Zupan031 (sorry I can't get more personal) in that the setting is equally important. I think that some celebrities are only recognized because of their setting whether it be a stage, a skate park, or in a kitchen. If we are not expecting to see them out of that standardized space, of course it will be harder to know who they are. I think this example has a bit too many variables to prove the theory of inattentional blindness, although it is interesting.

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This page contains a single entry by shrag022 published on February 17, 2012 2:56 PM.

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