Anyone in law enforcement —  heck, anyone who READS about law enforcement – knows how unreliable eyewitnesses are.

Did the killer have brown eyes? Was he this tall? Was he wearing a blue jacket or a red jacket. I’m sorry, ma’am, do you wear glasses? Did you even SEE the killer?

Apparently jurors place a lot of weight on the testimony of eyewitnesses. But memory isn’t like a video recorder. As soon as something happens, we layer on all kinds of emotions and emotions like stress that warp that video we call memory.

And that’s assuming we even noticed something happening.

There’s a famous psychological experiment in which people were asked to pay attention to a video of some people passing a basketball. They focused so hard on that basketball that they failed to notice something much more startling than a basketball. A couple of times during the video, someone dressed in a gorilla suit wanders in, beats his chest, and wanders out. You would think something like that would be hard to miss. You’d be wrong. Almost half missed it.

And, even when scientists told people about the gorilla, so they were primed to know that the whole experiment was about noticing the unexpected, they saw the gorilla, all right, but they missed other unexpected things.

So, the truth is that we stumble through life fairly oblivious.

And, if we miss a gorilla, what else are we missing?


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