But Did They See the Pink Elephants?


Courtesy of Todd Seavey comes one of the stranger tales of mystery and imagination emanating from the University of Washington in Seattle:

After one drink, most study participants overlooked an ape onscreen

New research by the University of Washington may make you think again: Most of the study participants who had had only one cocktail didn't even notice a gorilla walking through the middle of a ballgame.

That's right. The UW researchers tested people while they focused intently on a single task–counting the number of basketball passes in a video. Most of them couldn't see much else, such as realize that the clip features a woman in an ape suit who suddenly walks to center screen, beats her chest and exits–a nine-second cameo.

They were twice as likely to miss it as nondrinkers.

Yes, the study sample was tiny (though it supports earlier versions of the experiment done elsewhere), Seattle ain't much of a basketball town, and the participants were probably stoned on high-grade coffee and Peter Bagge comics. But the results should give pause to all of us who typically belt down drinks throughout the day at the Surgeon General mandated pace of three an hour. How many apes walking around do we miss? We might be living in a Roddy McDowall simian utopia without even realizing it, and angering the Great Lawgiver to boot.

But mostly, all of us–sober or drunk, ape or human–should be on the lookout for the policy terminus to which this sort of research is likely to lead: even more draconian drunk-driving laws and more of a War on Booze than already exists.

The results suggest that mildly intoxicated drivers, focused intently on their speed to keep from being stopped by the police, might not see pedestrians or other vehicles, the researchers said.

It indicates that "even having one stiff drink can make you blind drunk," the researchers reported in the current edition of the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology.

Whole thing here.

A few years back, Reason's own Jacob Sullum took a break from mixing martinis to look into the effectiveness of then-trendy calls for lowering legal blood-alcohol content. What he found is online here.

And here's a gratuitous link to the excellent Modern Drunkard magazine, though as this is the 21st century, I'm still eagerly anticipating Postmodern Drunkard.