Question: What are we talking about when we talk about
Christopher Chabris: There’s been a lot of talk over the
past few years and some popular books about the power of intuition and
how if we trusted our intuitions or went with our guts more often, we
would actually wind up making better decisions and the world would even
be a better place. Some researchers have talked about how our
intuitions and the intuitive judgments we can make, the snap judgments,
are actually accurate a lot of the time. And a lot of that is true, but
what we noticed when thinking about our gorilla experiment and doing
research for this book is that there’s a whole category of intuitions
that are actually systematically wrong and in very dangerous ways. And
those are the intuitions we have about how our own minds work.
our gorilla experiment shows that we intuitively think that we pay
attention to and notice much more than we actually do, and that can have
tragic consequences. If you get into a car accident or... one of the
examples in our book is a nuclear submarine that surfaced right into a
Japanese fishing boat because, in part, the captain of the submarine
looked up in the periscope, didn’t see any boats around and surfaced
right into one that he didn’t see. That was actually probably right in
front of him.
So there’s a case where intuitively, we think something and it can
really get us into big trouble. We realize as we were thinking about
the book and putting together the ideas that this category of intuitions
is very broad, it’s not just about visual attention. It’s also about
memory. We think we remember things much more accurately than we really
do. It’s about confidence. We think that people who are confident are
also more skilled and accurate and knowledgeable. It’s about our own
knowledge. We think that we know and understand more about the world
than we really do. And so on. There’s sort of like a whole sort of set
of these intuitions which can really lead us astray if we’re not aware
of them. And that’s what we decided to write the book about.
Question: Is your research in dialogue with recent books
that tout the value of intuition?
Christopher Chabris: We are, in a way, taking on the impression that
a lot of people have from books like, "Blink," by Malcolm Gladwell, and
others in that category, which is sort of an uncritical belief in the
power of intuition and snap judgments and so on, and the idea that you
should rely on them whenever possible. We sort of are, in a sense
taking on the cult of intuition or the myth of intuition as we call it
in the book.
I should also say that we’re very pleased that
Malcolm Gladwell actually read our original Scientific Journal article
about the Invisible Gorilla study and talked about it in one of his New
Yorker articles which helped it get more publicity and ultimately we
went into it becoming more widely known and as famous as it is.
Recorded on May 13, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen