How do we perceive things?
Our brain works in sync with the environment around us and is continuously being fed with an unending stream of information by our senses which can be overwhelming at times and thus the brain makes use of its own wisdom and judgment in deciding what requires a conscious attention or decision making.
And how does it begin to decide where to focus on?
From when does our brain becomes an expert in taking a decision on things like, which stimulation need a larger attention span and which ones ought to be ignored?
The Invisible Gorilla
Before we come to that, let me ask you if you have seen the video – The invisible Gorilla which proposes to test your selective attention.
The video was of two teams passing basketball to their own team members and the viewer has to keep a count of the number of times the ball was passed by team wearing white. It was approximately 2 minutes long.
Its available on YouTube as well.
So, what happened in the middle of the video was a Gorilla, appears on the center of the screen, thumps his chest for a few seconds and leave.
After the video ended, participants were asked to divulge the count of passes.
The main objective however, was not to verify if the count was correct, rather, it was to find out if they noticed Gorilla.
A large number of people failed to notice the huge chest-thumping animal in the midst of counting passes. In fact, when they were asked if they saw a Gorilla, the questioners were greeted with surprise and amazement of the participants on their failure to notice such a big beast.
Few even refused to believe a Gorilla actually did turned up and had to be shown the video again at which time, some of them even asked if they are being shown the same video as before or a different one.
Nevertheless, the study proved how limiting our focus can make us at times and how selective are we in utilizing our attention. If you are very observant and focused in doing something, chances of ignoring another obvious stimulus becomes very high.
Probably, this is the reason, focus which requires a deep attention is often a scarce commodity.
Why Focus is So Expensive
Now imagine, the times when we were living in the open grasslands and caves, if we would get to remain focused on something like this for too long and begin to ignore a Gorilla or any other wild animal frequently, chances of our survival would have become very bleak.
However, we were able to survive those early days as we knew where to use our focus and when to use our senses to scan the environment carefully around us and be aware of any possible predators.
Being focused is important however becoming oblivious of our surroundings to the extent of ignoring life threatening animals can prove hazardous and that’s why our amygdala becomes hyperactive especially when we are in unfamiliar surroundings or situations.
What happens when you are traveling and try to sleep inside the room of your hotel. Getting to sleep quickly is tough as our reptilian brain continues to scan for any possible threats in the new surroundings and makes it difficult for us to take that elusive nap.
Even when we are depressed or in emotional turmoil our senses become hyperactive as they work overtime and begin to suspect everything resulting in difficulty to trust people.
A depressed person will find it very hard to trust someone. (though there may be some exceptions)
Depression and stress activate our Sympathetic Nervous System which keeps us on the tenterhooks resisting any possible external stimuli from bringing about any change. This is also one of the reasons, to be a good listener to people experiencing mental trauma or depression as they need to first let down their defenses before they become open to accept anything new.
Whereas a happy person, with an unbridled flow of dopamine and serotonin along with oxytocin readily trusts others. Oxytocin also prompts communal feeling of harmony and camaraderie getting people closer leading to development of deeper confidence.
An event, place, music, surroundings can be anchors of certain emotions. Even names can perform such a trick.
If someone had been to a zoo and lost his purse while trying to watch a tiger eat his lunch, he will have unsettling feelings the next time on a visit to the zoo or upon seeing a tiger. That same feeling of having lost something would hit him again prompted by similar environment without him even realizing why, as all of this would be happening at a subconscious level. This is also referred to as Anchoring by psychologists.
Who will you Select Someone Familiar or New?
Same thing can happen with names as well. If two candidates have come for an interview and both have almost similar qualification and you can interview only one, chances are you would call someone with whom you can relate to at some level or another.
It can even be a name. For example, two candidates who have come are Demmy and George. You are not much familiar with Demmy, just one name gets to your mind for that name, that of a senior in college whose name was Danny (rhymes with Demmy) and you were not particularly fond of this individual.
Whereas the name George triggers pleasant feelings as you remembered your Science teacher who had always guided and supported you. Another George you remember is the one you met while on your first job and he too helped you a lot in learning the tricks of the trade.
These two experiences wont explicitly prompt you to call George, rather would work at an implicit or subconscious level and if someone were to question your choice of George, instead of offering the actual reason of familiarity, you would rather give a more logical reason, like he stays closer to office or has worked in a company which also produces almost similar products, even though Demmy might be coming from the competition as well.
We tend to rationalize the emotional choices we make as we ourselves are not consciously aware of the process with which we arrived at such decisions.
So, why does our brain do this? and
do we have any conscious control over it?
We will be exploring it tomorrow again.
Till then, I am looking forward to your feedback on this article, do share.