image of gorilla holding newspaper book title and author names

Kirkus Book Reviews - March 1, 2010
A fascinating look at little-known illusions that greatly affect our daily lives. Chabris (Psychology/Union Coll.) and Simons (Psychology/Univ. of Illinois) won a 2004 Ig Nobel Prize for their widely reported "gorilla experiment," which showed that when people focus on one thing, it's easy to overlook other things - even a woman in a gorilla suit. In their debut, they explore this habit of "inattentional blindness" and other common ways in which we distort our perception of reality. Their readable book offers surprising insights into just how clueless we are about how our minds work and how we experience the world. We think we see, know, remember or have the capacity to do something, when we actually do not. Recounting recent research and real-life examples, the authors focus on six illusions that make us overestimate our mental abilities. The illusion of attention allows us to look right at something and not consciously see it, as in the case of a gorilla appearing on court during a basketball game. The illusion of memory makes us believe we recall events precisely, when in fact we may embellish personal recollections of emotional moments like 9/11, and may even unintentionally plagiarize, thinking an idea is our own. Similarly, we hoodwink ourselves into overestimating our abilities (with the least skilled most likely to think better of themselves) and into believing we know more about the world than is justified (such as the time and expense involved in a planned project). The illusion of cause allows us to find the patterns in randomness that account for conspiracy theories and the discovery of religious images in sandwiches. Finally, we think we have enormous untapped mental ability that can be released with simple techniques, such as listening to the music of Mozart (the illusion of potential). The authors suggest that these illusions "might be so persistent and pervasive in our thought patterns precisely because they lead us to think better of ourselves than we objectively should." Be aware of these habits of mind, they write, and you can avoid being misled. Bound to have wide popular appeal.