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Why Your Users Miss The 800-Pound Gorilla

Published on Wednesday, 15th August 2018, contributed by Natural Interaction Ltd

Adam Babajee-Pycroft, MD, Natural Interaction

A couple of decades ago, a famous psychological experiment was carried out. In the experiment, participants are shown a video of two teams passing a basketball. They are told to count the types of passes that are made. Halfway through the video, someone walks through the game wearing a full gorilla suit. The results of the experiment seemed incredible. When the participants were asked if they’d seen anything unusual in the video, half of them said no. The gorilla had been effectively invisible to them, despite being on screen for 9 seconds and thumping its chest at the camera.

This amazing result was concrete evidence of the existence of ‘inattentional blindness’; our inability to see something right in front of us if we’re concentrating on an unrelated task. It’s a common cause of car accidents; drivers frequently say afterwards that they didn’t see a cyclist or motorbike that was in plain sight.

Invisible gorillas are also everywhere in UX design. You probably have a few of them on your site right now; important bits of content or a function that users should want to investigate, but that they just don’t interact with or seem to notice. You probably can’t understand it; how are they missing something so obvious when it’s right in front of them? The answer is probably inattentional blindness, and here’s how to get around it.

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