Picture yourself watching a one-minute video of two teams of three players each. One team wears white shirts and the other black shirts, and the members move around one another in a small room tossing two basketballs. Your task is to count the number of passes made by the white team – not easy given the weaving movement of the players. Unexpectedly, after 35 seconds a gorilla enteres the room, walks directly through the farrago of bodies, thumps his chest and, nine seconds later, exits. Would you see the gorilla?
Fifty percent of all observers do not see the gorilla.
This is called inattentional blindness, the link offers some further examples and tests. The bottom line: if you are concentrating on one static task, you often fail to notice dynamic movement. This is one reason why you should not drive and talk on your cell phone at the same time.
The quotation is from the March issue of Scientific American. Here is the the original research. Here are some additional studies, also look here. Here is a page of video exercises, although now you know what and who to look for.
The bottom line for economics? Neither investors nor voters need be rational in procedural terms. Searching more does not guarantee a better outcome. An “obvious” bubble can catch large numbers of investors unaware. And we, as voters, can fixate on some aspects of candidates and miss entirely their most important qualities.