A Monty Python sketch has been used to highlight a psychological phenomenon that prevents people being aware of something completely different. “Inattentional blindness” refers to the way the brain can shut out the unexpected, even if it is right in front of our eyes.
Scientists demonstrated just how unobservant people can be with the help of a little-known Monty Python sketch from the 1970s entitled Ypres 1914 – Abandoned. The sketch is set in the First World War and features several British soldiers, played by John Cleese, Eric Idle and Michael Palin, chatting. Standing behind them are several figures who look distinctly out of place, including a nun, a sheikh and a Viking.
Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, said: “We suspected that viewers are essentially blind to the unusual costumes – even though they are in full view – simply because people are focusing on the soldiers.”
To test their theory, the researchers showed the sketch to a group of students and discovered that 70% failed to notice the incongruous characters. Of those who missed them, 79% were surprised when the characters were pointed out.
Dr Caroline Watt, from the University of Edinburgh, who co-authored the study published in the journal iPerception, said: “The sketch shows how we often fail to see the unexpected, even when it’s obvious. Psychologists refer to this curious phenomenon as ‘inattentional blindness’ – and the Python sketch is one of the most striking and funny examples we have come across.”
The most famous demonstration of inattentional blindness was the “invisible gorilla” experiment conducted by Harvard psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons and published in 1999.
Volunteers were shown a minute-long video of two teams of people, one in white shirts and the other in black, moving around and passing basketballs to one another.
Participants were given the simple task of counting the number of passes made by the white team. Halfway through the video, a woman wearing a full body gorilla suit walks slowly into the middle of the screen, pounds her chest, and steps out of shot.
About half of the volunteers completely failed to spot the gorilla.
What is it they say “give a psychologist an inch and they will take a gorilla”………….or something like that.