The Invisible Gorilla; An Exercise in Attention

About Us,College Writing

In the following video, there are three people dressed in white and three dressed in black. Count how many times the people in white pass the ball to one another.

You should have counted 15 passes. But that isn’t the important part.

The real question is: did you see the gorilla?

Some of you may respond with, “Well, of COURSE I saw the gorilla. How could I miss it?” However, according to the study conducted at Harvard University by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, a full half of the people who took part in the experiment were so focused on counting the passes that they completely missed the gorilla. That’s 50% for whom the gorilla was completely invisible. (Even more crazily, in this recently conducted study, 83% of radiologists missed a rather large gorilla hidden in x-ray images!) Thus, we have the name of the experiment, “The Invisible Gorilla.” (Check out their site for more information!)

“The Invisible Gorilla”

This says a lot about the human ability to focus on things to the exclusion of all else. This ability can be great, for example, when the person down the hall is blaring heavy metal while you’re trying to study for an exam. However, this intense focus can also pose a bit of a problem, say, when you become so focused on the fact that one friend has not texted you back that you don’t realize that your other friends are waiting on you to go out.

Or, when you’re so focused on fixing all the little flaws in your latest essay that you miss some of the really large issues.

Many of you know how the Writing Center here at McDaniel works: you bring us your paper, and we sit down with you and talk about whatever you need help with. However, we have always made it a priority to focus on the biggest areas and issues. Some of you may be familiar with our Writing Center’s adage,

“If the Titanic is sinking, you don’t rearrange the deck chairs.”

Basically, this means that you shouldn’t worry about the little stuff (grammar, spelling, etcetera) if your paper needs, say, a thesis, or organization and structure. Focus first on the big, and work your way to the little.

Editors sometimes go bananas. (source:

Sometimes, though, its hard to even see the big if you’re so focused on the little. Just like we miss the gorilla in counting the basketball passes, we might also miss the fact that our paper has no supporting evidence if we’re too distracted by trying to fix commas.

At the Writing Center, we want to help you track down those gorillas! That is why we always suggest reading your paper aloud; you’ll really pick up on places where the organization is awkward, or the sentences don’t make sense! Even if you can’t make it in for an appointment with us, you can still do your own gorilla tracking.

Of course, we do recommend making an appointment! As trained Gorilla Trackers, its our job to help you make your paper as strong as possible by weeding out both big and little issues. Even if you’re a strong writer, having another person involved can really help you catch some of those larger snags; that’s why even our own tutors make appointments with each other once in a while!

Don’t let those gorillas slip by ya. Book an appointment with a trained Gorilla Tracker today!

What have you got to lose? Come on in.

Sammi, peer tutor.