Skip to main content

I'm not a professor, I'm a Researcher

Mark this one down as questionable. With a lead off paragraph like this one, it's got to be hard science, right?

People who have been drinking may miss objects that appear unexpectedly in their field of sight, even when their blood alcohol levels are just half the legal driving limit.

Pretty bold statement. There must have been some serious research behind this.
To investigate, the researchers had 47 volunteers watch a video of two teams passing basketballs back and forth and asked them to count how many times the team wearing white T-shirts passed the ball. During the video, a woman dressed in a gorilla suit appeared among the players, stood in the middle of the screen and beat her chest, and then walked away.

The subjects were given a beverage and instructed to drink it over a 10-minute period five minutes before watching the video. After viewing it, the researchers interviewed them to determine if they'd seen the gorilla.

Ok. Interesting technique. What were the conclusions?
Overall, one third of the study participants didn't notice the gorilla. Among those who were sober, 46 percent spotted the gorilla, compared to 18 percent of the intoxicated group.

Notice there are no hard counts here, only statistical numbers (percents, not numbers of people). Any other observations from the study?
This phenomenon, known as inattentional blindness, occurs commonly among people who are sober, Clifasefi and her team note

Wait, wait just one cotten-pickin' minute. Sober people exhibit this behavior, as well?
Let's review the methodology here. People are shown a video of basketball players passing the ball and asked to count the passes. No indication is given of how intensely one would have to watch that video in order to fulfill that directive. People in studies are paid to do what researchers tell them to do; if I'm a paid subject told to count passes in a basketball video, you can be damn sure I'm going to be concentrating pretty hard on the ball moving around.

Here's some interesting questions not addressed; how accurate were the counts of the "drunk" people? Did they perform as well on the task given to them as the sober people? Was the level of cognitive involvement (watching the basketball passes) equal to or less than the cognitive involvement of a seasoned automobile driver? Because, let's face it, what else would a study on perception and drinking be aimed at besides drivers?

Repeat after me everyone; language matters. And when researchers--sorry, I can't call them that--when grant seekers spew out crap like this "research", it makes you wonder just what their agenda is. Leading off with laughable conclusions that don't even pass the Smell Test doesn't exactly give your work much credance either.

One strong drink can make you 'blind drunk' |


  1. Hi! I found your page while searching for this video. You may already know this, but the study you're citing is derived from another study regarding the phenomena of "inattentional blindness". (click on that link above to see the video in question).
    The premise of the experiment was that subjects (all presumably sober, in the original experiment), when told to focus on counting the passes done by the people in the white shirts, would totally not see the slow-moving person in the gorilla suit walk through the scene. If you show an uninformed third party the video and instruct them to simply count the passes of the white shirts, they will probably miss the gorilla.
    Inattentional Blindness kicks in because the brain is filtering out visual information that doesn't fit the profile of what its focus is; namely fast-moving light-colored objects, in this case. So when a slow-moving dark-colored object (a gorilla-suit) walks by, the brain discards it along with the rest of the dark-colored objects.

    The drunk/sober thing.. I don't know about all that. The only thing I could make from it is that when I get a bit intoxicated my focus doesn't drift as much as when I'm sober.

    Again, you may have already heard about this study -- but I felt I'd point it out in case you hadn't.


  2. I hadn't heard of the previous study, so thanks for chiming in. But, the previous study seems to support a position that it doesn't matter a freakin' lick if you're sober or drunk, merely that perception is shaped by instruction and concentration (wow, what a shocker). Adding alcohol to the protocol is interesting, but only so far as it compares to a previous study. Stating, up front, that one drink makes your "blind drunk" is a fallacy and hardly scientific.

    I meant this post to turn into a larger rant about research in general, but I couldn't get around a huge the sensationalism that lead this "research". My daily work life brings me in contact with some of the stupidest studies you've ever heard of.

    "I'm a 8th year graduate student and my thesis is that a majority of people in Japan are Japanese. To support my thesis, I plan on spending 6 months in Resort Town, Miyazaki up to my eyeballs in sacred water and sushi."

    Thanks for the tip on the previous study, though; that's very interesting background. The research seems, to me, to ignore fairly obvious outside factors like incentive to participate in the study (usually money) that easily translates into a desire to perform well in the experiment. As a participant, if I'm paid a moderate sum to perform an instructed task, that, to me, is a component of the study.

    I also find it humorous that there is research going on about a concept that Douglas Adams wrote about almost 20 years ago, with space ships that remained invisible via the Other People's Problem field. If it isn't my problem, I don't see it. I know that's dismissive in a way, but it's still tickles my funny bone.

    Anyway, I suppose I could blame the media for promoting this kind of sensationalized tripe ("eggs are good! eggs are bad! eggs are good! eggs are bad!"), but haven't they pretty much forfeited all of their credibility in the last 6 years?

  3. I also found this page while searching for the video. The video clip is at Watch the video while trying to count the number of times the white team passes the ball, and you might not see the gorilla. Watch it and don't count the ball passes, and you'll see the gorilla.

    The authors say that an intoxicated individual may "pay a great deal of attention to her speedometer to ensure she is staying within the speed limit."

    The solution seems simple. If you're driving home after having a drink or two, turn on your cruise control.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

RIP Tom Petty

Tom Petty died today, aged 66. I won't claim to be a huge Tom Petty fan, but I've bought an album or two and sang along in the car to one of those songs everyone knows. I'll  stream a lot of his catalog today to remember the songs I've heard once or hundreds of times.

I also owe Petty credit for a singular moment in my life, and one I never expected to last in my mind.

Nearly 20 years ago, I was a fresh-ish faced transplant to Ann Arbor, MI by way of my first "real job" out of college, working for a software company in Dexter. I was renting a house with some other folks who'd also been displaced as a result of a fire at my first apartment. I was the only family member East of Lansing, which made me a contact point for anyone going through Detroit Metro airport.

Which is how my uncle Dean came to spend a few hours with me one evening. At the time, my grandparents (his parents) were wintering in Texas. My grandfather had health problems most of his life and…

Google Inbox: A classic Google product

My work domain (an EDU) recently had Google Inbox enabled so I had a good chance to try it out. My personal email is relatively quiet and, I believe, doesn't provide a good Inbox experience. Work is more active and requires actual management, something I've tossed many a tool at over the years. As part of my work life, I supported the Google Apps for EDU installation here and took a pretty extensive presentation to campus about how to manage large amounts of email.

Inbox is a classic Google product: the distillation of a number of excellent ideas into a set of half-complete features built for a use case most people don't meet. We've seen this in the past in products like ChromeVox, Google's Chrome extension for accessibility. ChromeVox works great on ChromeOS devices, but completely ignores the point that most users of accessibility tech (AT) don't have or want ChromeOS devices and come to services with their AT in tow. ChromeVox also ignores decades of convent…


Evernote, for better or worse, is the best note-taking service for my needs. It works across all my devices/computers/modes. It's fairly easy to get stuff into it. Hell, they even have 2-Factor authentication. The Windows app is a little clunky and my girlfriend and I have never been able to get shared notes to work properly (conflicted note! three times in the same grocery trip!), but what service is perfect? At least they have nice socks.

Everything, in fact, is pretty good as long as you don't screw up. And screw up I did. I'm not very regular about making backups, but I do make them every month or so. Once you figure out how to create a backup, that is.

There's a helpful Export Note option (which turns into Export Notes when you select multiple notes HINT). The export process is essentially opening All Notes, selecting every note, and then choosing Export Notes. Or something like that; Evernote never tells you, you're left to figure it out on your own. The file…