CSI: How Refined Is Your Visual Intelligence?

Are you detective material? This visual intelligence test will make you think twice about accuracy and just how much details matter.

Amy Herman: This is an interesting painting and I want you to just take a look at it for a few seconds before we talk about it. I've looked at this painting a thousand times. I use it in my classes, I've seen it in art museums when it's been on view and there is so many subtleties. But one of the assumptions that I made, not as an art historian but just a viewer of art is that what I was looking at on the plate was a piece of meat like a piece of ham with and eye in the center. And when I first showed it at one of my classes I said okay who's going to tell me what they see and someone raised his hand and said that's a big old pancake on the plate. And I would have never considered that it was a pancake. Is it a material distinction? Maybe, maybe not. But he was so sure that it was a pancake and I was so sure that it was a piece of meat, while it might seem like a really subtle distinction it's not if you think about something like eyewitness testimony. Well, he was wearing a red sweater. No, he was wearing a blue sweater. That's a big difference.

And one of the things that reminded me of the Magritte painting there was a crime scene in Texas and they were speaking to a witness and they said what did he look like? What did the suspect look like? And the witness said he had a cowboy hat on. So everyone was looking, and in Texas lots of people wear ten-gallon hats. So they were looking for a suspect with a cowboy hat on. Well, it turns out the suspect was wearing a Dallas Cowboys cap. So the choice of words it wasn't a cowboy hat it was a Dallas Cowboys hat. The idea of a saying what you see and being sure about what you say that's how communication lines can get crossed. And another interesting thing about that Magritte painting that I found fascinating, one of the wonderful things about writing the book is people write to you. They read your book and they send you their own observations and I received an email from a woman who said has anyone ever told you when they look at that painting and describe it to you that the fork to the right of the plate is turned upside down and the tines are facing into the table. I had never noticed that. I had a look at the painting a thousand times. And again, material difference? No. Critical? No. Important? Yes. It's one of those details because if someone said to me describe the silverware in the painting I would've said you have a knife and a fork. And sometimes it's those very small details of the tines facing the table that can bring a whole case together or crack a case or be that one detail that brings all the other pieces together.

Amy Herman’s visual intelligence tests and exercises are best done with a friend, because every time they unveil something about perspective that you didn’t expect. Herman created and teaches a course called The Art of Perception to doctors, intelligence analysts and the NYPD, and while her lessons are entertaining for individuals looking to have their minds blown, they are immensely relevant for businesses and even more so for criminal investigations.


Here she uses one of Rene Magritte’s artworks to demonstrate the dangers of assumptions – both in observations, but also in communicating those observations. Her example from a real criminal investigation in Texas will spark an awareness of the different ways people see identical objects and our varying understandings of exactly the same words. Fine-tuning our visual intelligence makes us more careful, considered, and accurate – something so important when lives and money are at stake.

Amy Herman is the author of Visual Intelligence:Sharpen Your Perception, Change Your Life.

Why America’s Christian foundation is a myth

A new book by constitutional attorney Andrew Seidel takes on Christian nationalism.

Image Source: Ericsphotography / Getty Images
Culture & Religion
  • A new book by attorney Andrew Seidel, 'The Founding Myth: Why Christian nationalism Is Un-American', takes on the myth of America's Christian founding.
  • Christian nationalism is the belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation on Christian principles, and that the nation has strayed from that original foundation.
  • Judeo-Christian principles are fundamentally opposed to the principles on which America was built, argues Seidel.
Keep reading Show less

Should you marry a passionate lover or your best friend? Here’s what science says.

Married people even do better during the so-called middle-age slump.

Photo credit: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Personal Growth

We've known for a long time that married people experience better physical and mental health, just so long as they're happily married. Last year, a study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that marriage may have stress relieving properties, as those ensconced in marital bliss carry less of the stress hormone cortisol in their bloodstream, than singles or the divorced.

Chronically elevated levels of cortisol can lead to low-level inflammation throughout the body, which is a contributing factor to some of the most dreadful conditions, including diabetes, dementia, and heart disease.

Keep reading Show less
Personal Growth

None of us enjoys having our job cut into our leisure time. So the next time your boss asks you to work late and miss your band rehearsal or board game night, point them to a new study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior.

Keep reading Show less