A classic switcheroo

October 16, 2008 | By | 3 Replies More

This experiment has been done repeatedly in psychology experiments.  It’s always entertaining.  What’s amazing is that the switched questioner has such a different physical appearance and voice.

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Category: Psychology Cognition

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Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. TJ says:

    I'm not so surprised by most of the video clip. Except for the last switch, the guys looked basically the same: non-descript white guy. (Not noticing the switch from the white guy to the black guy is a bit surprising.)

    First, that kind of switcheroo is almost unthinkable in normal life. We can't pay attention to every detail of the world, so some assumptions, like the person I'm talking to will not change into another person in the 2 seconds I can't see them, are reasonable. No one would fall for that at a pranksters' convention, I bet.

    Even without the unexpectedness factor, I'm not too surprised. When I give a stranger directions (or the time, or any other inconsequential interaction–probably including transactions with store clerks and cashiers), I don't make much eye contact, I don't pay close attention to them as people, and couldn't recall details about them 2 minutes later.

    So, to me, the fact that people don't really notice is unsurprising. The more interesting question is *why* do they (we?) behave that way?

    For me, I consciously know that I don't like to "waste brain space" on people I'll likely never see again (or so it has been my rationalization since I was a teenager). I'm also fairly shy in person (I prefer written communication). There's really no chance that *I* am going to be able to make any kind of human connection with a person in the first five minutes I meet them. It's never happened before (possibly because of my shyness), and after 40 years I don't expect it to happen in the future. So why even try in an interaction that lasts 90 seconds at most?

    So, did they only show the clips of the 5% of people who fall for this trick? (All of us poor shy saps.) Would it work at a trade show, full of sales professionals who all consider themselves a "people person". The sales guys at my work that I've met briefly, once all remember my name the next time we meet. I don't remember their names, though. These are the kinds of folks who don't see you for 6 months but remember to ask about your spouse and kids (by name!). Would they fall for it.

    Dunno. But I think it's more interesting to ask *why* than to just observe that people can be tricked into odd behavior.

  2. Erich Vieth says:

    TJ: Check out these clever videos regarding attention blindness." http://dangerousintersection.org/?p=1559

    More explanation here: http://dangerousintersection.org/2008/02/04/becau

    Here's an earlier version of the demonstration. http://dangerousintersection.org/2008/02/04/becau

  3. Erika Price says:

    TJ: I very much doubt that the video linked to above was only the work of clever editing. Really, very many people do fail to notice a change in these types of experiments.

    This experiment has been replicated plenty, of course, and I found one version particularly compelling: people fail to notice the switch at a higher rate if the person (people) they talk to are not a member of their "in-group". For instance, if a young adult is approached by an older man, who is then switched out for another older man, the young adult is far less likely to notice than if the other two people were young like him/herself.

    That resonates, doesn't it? If I see someone my age, race, and background pass me by on the street, I see them as a unique person; if I see someone much older, I just label them as "some old dude" and fail to notice the individual behind the old dude. But my mistake is fair- no doubt he just saw me as some anonymous whippersnapper.

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