The Invisible Gorilla Experiment and You

Four years ago, when I was plotting my new book, Fatal Distraction, the first job was finding the central crime that pits the psychopathic villain against Jess Kimball.

Because I write crime fiction with hopeful endings, a compelling central crime must be each story’s focus. The news of the day generally provides more than enough plot fodder, suggesting kernels of human behavior that might make a good novel after I work with them a while. My challenge is to understand how we behave and why and then write a better story and a better ending than the one real life might deliver.

If you’ve read Fatal Distraction, or simply seen the award winning cover designed by Jeroen ten Berge, you probably guessed at least one thing that captured my interest back then:  

Four years ago, our local news seemed to have more than the usual number of reported traffic fatalities. Each time, grief vultures of all types swooped down upon the families. Defeating the vultures who prey on us in tough times became the soul of my story.

Last month, Fatal Distraction was published. Interviews at the launch and reader questions about the story brought traffic crashes to mind again.  Despite all of our driving safety education efforts,  too many reports of fatal crashes continue to fill our small town paper.

Of course, the causes aren’t as devious as the stalking killer in my new book. No, in real life, a common and predictable cause is almost always at fault for traffic crashes, workplace accidents, in-home injuries, and more.

Did you know our own distraction is the true culprit? We are missing a great deal of what goes on around us and we have no clue we’re missing as much as we are. Who knew the human brain can only effectively focus on one thing at a time? Multi-tasking is a humbug.

The Invisible Gorilla Experiment proved that the more our focused attention is required, the less attention we have for distractions. Take a look:

Driving is already a divided-attention task. Add cell phones, music, and passengers, and what you have is an opportunity for disaster. And you don’t have to be a teenager to be guilty.  Driving while eating, applying makeup, chatting with passengers, organizing kids, and a very long list of other activities can be disastrous.

Talking on the cell phone while walking down the sidewalk has produced some serious falls. Falling asleep on a heating pad; leaving unattended candles burning; missing the last step and falling to the ground. All of these injuries result from distraction.

Please remember the invisible gorilla, okay? He’s there — whether we see him or not — so let’s be sure we don’t get distracted.


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23 Responses to The Invisible Gorilla Experiment and You

  1. Tasha Turner June 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

    Great post. I counted 12 passes and did see the gorilla enter and exit. I suspect that is where I lost track of the ball. Really good advice.

    • Diane Capri June 19, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      Amazing video, Tasha, isn’t it? Who knew we could so easily lose our focus? Thanks for the comment and glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Melinda VanLone June 19, 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    I saw the gorilla, but didn’t count the passes. I cheated though, because I’d seen this before. I think the first time, I saw it too, but also because I’d lost track of how many passes there were. In other words, I’m slightly ADD and didn’t follow instructions LOL.

    • Diane Capri June 19, 2012 at 8:04 pm #

      Ruh Ro! Melinda, you’d better get that ADD under control!! 🙂 You’ve got a lot of work to do on that book you’re writing and your reading public is waiting!

  3. August McLaughlin June 19, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Thank you for covering such an important issue in your book and blog, Diane. My heart breaks a bit every time I hear of a distracted driving fatality. No text, call or thought is more important than life itself.

    • Diane Capri June 19, 2012 at 8:03 pm #

      Distractions are deadly, August. And not just while driving. As a lawyer I handled many heartbreaking cases where people did such foolish things because they weren’t paying attention. The whole ideal that we can multi-task instead of doing one thing at a time is not just foolish, it’s dangerous. Thanks for the comment.

  4. Louise Behiel June 19, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    i’d seen it before so got 15 passes and a big guy wearing a gorilla costume in Alberta, we have a new distracted driving law. you can use a headset to talk on the phone but cannot have the phone in your hand. ditto for food, drink and all the other things we do when driving. it’s almost a $200 fine. but does not give you demerit points against your license. But I think it needs to be enforced more rigorously. distracted driving is a killer and we need to stop it.

    • Diane Capri June 19, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

      Now why does it not surprise me, Louise, that you absolutely noticed the invisible gorilla? 🙂 Did you know that talking on a cell phone headset is actually worse than holding the phone to your ear? Or so reported the Wall Street Journal recently. Seems talking using the headset allows us to become even more engrossed in the conversation since we don’t have to pay attention about not dropping the phone! It’s always something…

  5. Lynn Kelley June 19, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

    I saw this video awhile ago and didn’t notice the gorilla. Mind boggling!

    You picked a good topic for the soul of Fatal Distraction, Diane. I wonder how close to home a tragedy has to occur before most people take heed of the texting, talking on the phone, and all the other distractions that claim lives. Good reminders for all of us, Diane, in all aspects of our lives. I can relate to all those scenarios and know people who experienced something similar.

    • Diane Capri June 19, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by, Lynn. You’re right that we all need to take heed and stay safe.

  6. Karen McFarland June 19, 2012 at 10:26 pm #

    Diane, it is unlawful to drive on the west coast holding a cell phone while driving. Although you may talk hands free. I still don’t know if that’s a good thing, or not. We just have too many distractions in our life. I did count 15 passes and saw the gorilla. But I almost missed him. Whew! Great post! 🙂

    • Diane Capri June 19, 2012 at 11:16 pm #

      Amazing that something as big as a gorilla is so easily missed, isn’t it? Makes mystery/suspense/thriller writing easier, though! Thanks for the comment, Karen! 🙂

  7. Natalie Hartford June 20, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    Fantastic post Diane. It’s so true. Distractions can be life changing and especially when we are behind the wheel of a 4000 pound car moving at a variety of perhaps seemingly slow speeds. It’s dangerous. It requires our full attention. Our own personal safety, that of our passengers and that of the other drivers on the road calls for us to drive with the utmost care, consideration and attention.
    The gorilla experiment rocks. The first time I watched it, I totally missed it. Just goes to show. We all need to be more aware of the world around us.

    • Diane Capri June 20, 2012 at 10:39 am #

      Exactly right, Natalie. In real life, we need to be vigilant. The great thing for a mystery/suspense/thriller writer is that we can use this human tendency to become distracted to create good stories, too. It’s not only a way to raise awareness of the power of distraction in our lives, but can be entertaining as well. Thanks for reading!

  8. Marcy Kennedy June 20, 2012 at 11:14 am #

    Thanks for covering such an important topic. We have a hand’s free law for cell phones in Ontario, but distracted driving is a much bigger issue. As much as I think GPS is great, I’ve heard of people who watch the GPS so closely that they forget to watch the road and end up in an accident.

    • Diane Capri June 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm #

      The GPS thing isn’t one I’ve heard before, Marcy, but it’s easy to see how that could happen. We use the GPS when we’re already a bit distracted because we don’t know exactly how to get to our destination. The additional distraction of watching the GPS itself could fairly easily direct our focus too far away from our driving. Thanks for raising that issue.

  9. Kristy K. James June 20, 2012 at 11:08 pm #

    Love the post, Diane. I am embarrassed to admit that as soon as the guy on the video said there were 15 passes, I ran it back…TWICE…because I counted 16 passes…all three times. And I didn’t see the gorilla even once. Not until it showed it in slow motion. Then I ran it back a fourth time and, sure enough, there it was.

    • Diane Capri June 21, 2012 at 8:37 am #

      Yikes, Kristy! Be careful out there! Those gorillas may be invisible, but they are definitely present. Thanks for reading and for the comment.

  10. Debra Kristi June 21, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    Woo Hoo! I got the correct count AND saw the big guy. Yay! Very cool post, Diane. Thanks for bringing up this very important topic. Distracted drivers is a huge concern. I have often thought they should do something about the space between the front seat and back, a plexi-wall perhaps, to help cut down on the child distraction factor. 😀

    • Diane Capri June 22, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

      Excellent, Debra! Even with the kids in the car, you’ll stay focused!

  11. Pat O'Dea Rosen June 22, 2012 at 8:08 pm #

    I’m humbled. I counted fourteen passes and completely missed the gorilla. This goes to show how unreliable witness accounts can be.

    • Diane Capri June 22, 2012 at 9:55 pm #

      True, Pat. The scary part for me was that we don’t realize we’re not seeing what’s really there.

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