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Crazy, Sexy Consumer Culture

by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP
      In a famous Harvard University study published in the journal Perception volunteers were told to watch a thirty-second film of six people playing basketball, and count the number of passes made by one of the teams. Three people on each team wore matching T-shirts. In one version of the video, a woman holding an umbrella walks through the action taking place on the court. Another featured a woman in a gorilla suit.
     While tallying the number of passes recorded, observers were asked whether they noticed either anything unusual on the video or any people other than the six players. Forty-six percent simply did not notice the woman in the gorilla suit, even though in one version of the film she stopped in the middle of the court, faced the camera and thumped her chest. Out of those nonnoticers, eighty-eight “did not believe that the event had happened until the videotape was replayed for them.”[i]
     The counters who missed the gorilla were so intently focused on their task their minds simply screened out visual information not relevant to it. This study points up the fact that when we are told to give attention to a thing, we tend to miss or ignore other things that are also happening right before our eyes.
     As advertising and media penetrate into nearly every area of life, our attention is increasingly directed toward things we "need" to have a good-enough life. The emotional content alone can easily overwhelm own better judgment, as the distinction between what we know we want from within our own heart and soul and the marketers’ dream for us is increasingly blurred. Images and scenes that play to our fears and our need to shine or to find love or simply belong also trigger subconscious cues and motivations that have remarkable power over our behavior. Like people in love with the wrong person, we can fix the facts to fit the feelings. New information that interferes with the narrative to which we are attached is rejected on contact. We can be blind to very real threats, we can perceive threats where none exist.
As the old candy ad goes, sometimes we feel like a nut, sometimes we don’t, but there is no shortcut to the self-knowledge and self-mastery that gives us the psychological strength to determine if that feeling is our own.

[i]Daniel J. Simons and Christopher F. Chabris, “Gorilla in our Midst: Sustained Inattentional Blindness for Dynamic Events” Perception 28.9 (1999): 1072.


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