Spot the toothbrush
October 6, 2017 3:34 PM   Subscribe

The selective attention test that was described in the article.
posted by GuyZero at 3:39 PM on October 6


Me: oh, please.
NYT: o rly?

I love this stuff, thanks!
posted by Room 641-A at 3:54 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

A friend of mine taught me a great trick when searching for something -- use a flashlight. I'm not sure of the mechanism, whether it aids focus or throws items into a different relief so that you're more likely to notice what you're looking for, but I notice that I find "obvious" things I had missed before much faster.
posted by tclark at 4:00 PM on October 6 [16 favorites]

I think that years of helping my mother finish off hidden object game levels made me see the second toothbrush first.
posted by xyzzy at 4:13 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

Just yesterday, my husband stood at the stove, his right hand on the frying pan, asking where the lid to the frying pan was. I smoothly picked it up off of the left-hand burner and handed it to him.

Is this the kind of thing we are talking about? I will go RTFA now.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:23 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

Let's not talk about how many times I've used my phone flashlight to search frantically for... my phone.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:35 PM on October 6 [52 favorites]

Maybe I can't see the Parking Meter is because one of my browser defenses (AdBlock, Ghostery, ?) is blocking your shitty webpage image coding?
posted by achrise at 4:38 PM on October 6 [11 favorites]

> Click on the toothbrush in this messy bathroom.

i think either me or the nyt seriously needs to re-evaluate the meaning of "messy" because i think one of us might have a problem
posted by a mirror and an encyclopedia at 4:39 PM on October 6 [74 favorites]

I've had the unsettlingly recurring experience lately of when I misplace one item, I don't find it until I have misplaced another item and begin searching for the second. I've had chains of up to 4 lost items for which that happened.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:45 PM on October 6 [12 favorites]

Having been almost hit by cars 2 times in 3 blocks while cycling home from work today, I'm ready for people to stop "not expecting" bicycles and thus being blind to us. They appeared to look right at me, I thought we had eye contact, and then I'm slamming on the brakes while they make an apologetic face. If a gorilla suit or a clown on a unicycle isn't enough, I can't imagine adding yet more fluorescent to my outfit is going to help anything.
posted by traveler_ at 4:58 PM on October 6 [8 favorites]

I think it was on the blue that someone pointed out Yoda’s criticism of Luke in The Empire Strikes Back — “Never his mind on where he was, hm? What he was doing!” is particularly apt when you remember that in the first movie Luke gets clocked by a Tusken Raider right in front of him and in the first ten minutes of this one, a Wampa standing in front of him surprises him.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:04 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

The issue of inattentional blindness is something that is discussed in a motorcycle safety class. You just have to assume that nobody sees you, so keep that in mind when riding. Assume that the person in the opposite left hand turn lane doesn't see you, so be ready to make evasive maneuvers if they do make that left turn as you are riding through the intersection.
posted by NoMich at 5:04 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

Man, that damn basketball-passing/gorilla video really pissed me off the first time I watched it (probably due to a Metafilter post)! To this day I still get annoyed at myself that I utterly, totally failed to notice the ape the first time through. I don't know if it affected my driving habits positively or negatively; now I try so frantically to notice everything at once that my attention probably suffers for it. I've never been in an accident, but then I never had before I saw that video, either, so...
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:08 PM on October 6 [6 favorites]

That toothbrush pic gave me a really good laugh.

I struggle with this a lot though because I do woodworking in my spare time and my bench is usually pretty cluttered. It can be surprisingly hard to spot a folding ruler when it's surrounded by a plow plane, several chisels, awl, dovetail saw, #4 smoothing plane, cabinet scraper, dividers, mallet, combination square, screwdriver, marking knife, coping saw, panel gauge, jar of shellac, hammer,...and a layer of wood shavings.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:09 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

i didn't notice the big toothbrush at first because, seriously, what kind of monster just leaves their gigantic bristles out there flying free in toilet land.
a big monster, obviously, with marginaly assiduous oral hygine, and sharp teeth.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 5:21 PM on October 6 [6 favorites]

i think either me or the nyt seriously needs to re-evaluate the meaning of "messy"

srsly i feel so judged right now
posted by lalex at 5:21 PM on October 6 [8 favorites]

I use the Selective Attention Test in certain autism and behavior analysis trainings and it is quite fun to watch people watching it. You can tell those who see the anomaly and then at the end, the look on the faces of those who are just now seeing the anomaly.

The video is a good way to point out the problems of just focusing on one thing, not having multiple people look at problem, etc.
posted by ITravelMontana at 5:30 PM on October 6 [1 favorite]

This is why in my workshop I have carefully labeled drawers and compartments for things. I've found it saves me a lot of time because I can just start by saying "well, it's not in the place it's SUPPOSED to be", because it won't be, and get on with the search.

My favorite is going to the hardware store and buying some fasteners, and when I have extras, deciding to store them...right here. Ah, look, where there are already a bunch from the last time I bought some.

I gather I should leave this off my dating profile. Though that "messy" bathroom picture might be a good screening tool. "So you thought that was messy? Say, listen, don't think we're a match, but I'm sure you'll find another-anal retentive someone!"
posted by maxwelton at 6:11 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

Maybe I can't see the Parking Meter is because one of my browser defenses (AdBlock, Ghostery, ?) is blocking your shitty webpage image coding?

My browser didn't load the images immediately. But right-clicking on the blank space and selecting "Inspect element" caused the image to load.
posted by Jpfed at 6:34 PM on October 6

Before I even read the article: Get someone to move your mouse cursor while you're not looking. Then find out without touching your mouse.

We're born to detect motion. We're like dinosaurs.
posted by BiggerJ at 6:45 PM on October 6

Officer, "Why did you hit the car in the intersecton?"
Me, "I was looking at the gorilla."
posted by Oyéah at 6:51 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

I can't imagine adding yet more fluorescent to my outfit is going to help anything.

Every time I see a well-marked, fluorescent, lit-up, helmeted bicyclist I want to stop and hug her. Thank you for making my driving safer! Unlit, darkcloaked cyclists give me little heart attacks at least once a week.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:07 PM on October 6 [12 favorites]

The oversight has to do with scale. People have a tendency to miss objects when their size is inconsistent with their surroundings, according to a recent study in Current Biology.

As someone who is taller-than-average, I think I've just learned why other shoppers always seem oblivious to me at the grocery store.
posted by Graygorey at 7:55 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

Okay, that was hilarious. I saw the giant toothbrush immediately, and like Cold Lurkey was concerned about its toilet proximity. Then I couldn't find the small toothbrush. I found it and made an assumption: this article is going to explain to me that when you see a big weird thing you have trouble seeing the regular things because all your focus is taken up on the big thing. Then I read the article. Oh.

This reminds me of a time in high school when we were given a sheet of paper with a big circle on it. We were told to write something on the paper. I wrote left to right, starting at the top, going over the circle. I guess I thought the paper was recycled from a different task or something? Then the big reveal: look, I bet you wrote that sentence inside the circle, didn't you! No, I barely registered the circle at all.

So I have no idea what this means about my way of viewing the world but I'm not an especially creative person visually.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:48 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

SLC Mom, you can hug me anytime.

helmet: so called highlighter yellow, which I always think just looks neon green
shirt: white, gray, neon green or neon pink
pants: pattern of blue, red and white (very Canadian Olympian, according to my husband)
shoes: gray with bright green swoosh
bike: white with colorful stripes

Plus lights. If you can't see me, your eyes are closed. Even standing still I probably appear to be moving because my outfit is so busy and clashing.
posted by Emmy Rae at 8:55 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

If I had a nickle for every time I had the following conversation with my children:

"Mom, where's my sock?"
"Um ... well, look for it."
"I'm looking! I can't find it!"
"There it is."
"Look where I'm pointing!"

Well ... I'd have enough nickles not to have dirty socks lying on my living room floor, I tell you what.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:56 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

I think we are talking about something similar to Douglas Adams’ SEP field, ie the ability to hide something in plain sight simply because it is so improbable and unexpected that nobody notices it.

When I visited Salt Lake City in the early 90’s I smoked weed openly on the temple square. My friends were like “whoa, dude, what are you doing? You’re publicly getting high in broad daylight in the least tolerant square mile in the USA?”

“Don’t worry about it man, we are surrounded by an SEP field.”

I acknowledge fully that depending on SEP fields is far riskier for non-white people or those with less conservative hair cuts and of course those days are long behind me now, but I like to think that pushing the envelope advances the cause of tolerance for us all

posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:16 PM on October 6 [2 favorites]

I'm always so sad about the gorilla basketball video because it was spoiled for me and so of course I saw the damn gorilla right away. Someone make another really obvious video like that, and don't spoil it in the video title and then send it to me, ok?

(I always notice those "we changed the color of our shirts and tablecloth and oh we're not even the same people" videos because TFA or whatever always clues you in to watch for a change.)
posted by greermahoney at 9:39 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

I saw the "parking meter" immediately, but answered "no" because that's not a parking meter. It's maybe a piece of public art shaped like one. If it can't be used to pay for parking except by giants with ladders, it's not a parking meter. I don't know why I don't think this of the toothbrush, though.
posted by hades at 9:49 PM on October 6 [3 favorites]

If it can't be used to pay for parking except by giants with ladders, it's not a parking meter.

And only semis could park there, because they're the only vehicles big enough to carry the humongous coins that behemoth must require...
posted by Greg_Ace at 9:57 PM on October 6

hades, I had your reaction to both pictures. A toothbrush is a tool that humans use to brush their human teeth. That black stick with bristles might be a toothbrush to a whale, but the word "toothbrush" is not a whale word, it is a human word. Likewise, a parking meter is used by humans to pay for parking. A box with a coin slot ten feet of the ground is therefore not a parking meter.

Not that I deny the phenomenon the FA is really about, but those were poorly chosen examples.
posted by five toed sloth at 10:03 PM on October 6 [5 favorites]

I guess maybe the toothbrush could be a "novelty toothbrush", or something, like Vermin Supreme has. I can imagine that. I can't really imagine a novelty parking meter.
posted by hades at 10:35 PM on October 6

I think we are talking about something similar to Douglas Adams’ SEP field, ie the ability to hide something in plain sight simply because it is so improbable and unexpected that nobody notices it.

I NEVER lose ANYTHING. My problem is that I somehow have the ability to create around me small, invisible, highly transient wormholes. They then suck items around me up, deposit them elsewhere at their terminii then dissipate.

So I am not forgetful! IT IS SCIENCE!

And this is true, because...

Wir haben uns zu Meistern der Wissenschaft!

(Or at least I have.)
posted by Samizdata at 10:52 PM on October 6

jesus christ that's the scariest picture I ever saw. sure I saw the toothbrushes. sure I saw both of them.

but did you see the creature who uses that toothbrush? did you see him? or was he too...too much for your eyes to allow your mind to let you?

look again. look just to the side of the screen and let him sneak into your peripheral vision, the thing whose toothbrush that is. if you can. sometimes just knowing something's there is enough to let you see it, but sometimes breaking down your instinctive self-protection blinders just to get a little congratulatory note from the NYT isn't worth it. don't look. don't look.
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:54 PM on October 6 [9 favorites]

The toothbrush image illuminates nothing. The test is meaningless if you're going to subtly change the definition of common nouns when posing the question. When searching an image of a human (not even slightly messy!) bathroom for a "toothbrush" we're not looking for something three feet long. And posing the question with the definite article, suggesting there is only one toothbrush, while including another really obvious actual toothbrush front and centre, is essentially cheating. The whole thing is disingenuous at best and not a good introduction to what might otherwise be a somewhat interesting idea.

Like some others here I can't see the parking meter image but on the basis of the comments it sounds like it is similarly disingenuous. Pah.

posted by merlynkline at 2:37 AM on October 7 [4 favorites]

Metafilter: "Toothbrush" is not a whale word, it is a human word.
posted by quinndexter at 5:11 AM on October 7 [7 favorites]

baleenbrush would be the whale word, surely.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 9:39 AM on October 7 [3 favorites]

I remember as a kid we used to play "hide in plain sight and seek" where someone would hide an ordinary object somewhere in plain sight and eveeyone had a certain amount of time to find the object. That was always fun.
posted by Room 641-A at 10:23 AM on October 7 [1 favorite]

this effect allows for the scariest horror movie/tv trope I can think of, although I don't care enough to go poking around for a few hours trying to figure out if there's a name for it. when the protagonist comes home alone and there's a man or a THING in her apartment right there in the open, not hiding, maybe holding very still on the couch or filling the whole window, but she doesn't see it, and sometimes you don't either, at first. but then you do and then you have to wait for her to see. except there's nightmare rules where it's not going to get her until she sees it and screams, so maybe if she persistently doesn't see, nothing bad will happen?

and the related thing where the protagonist is in focus, and in the background just out of focus, something is...moving. you don't see it, until you do. and you know it is very bad well before it comes into focus, because you just do.

anyway this is a very good October article and whoever at the Times wants everybody to have nightmares about giant toothbrushes in our own bathrooms that have been there all along but we never saw them, I hope they're happy. I dare everybody to go look and see if there's one in your bathroom. go check right now. no? are you sure? ARE YOU SURE
posted by queenofbithynia at 11:09 AM on October 7 [4 favorites]

Sonofa-- All this time, I've been using that big boy to clean my toilet!!

Oh well, I guess there's no point in worrying about getting aerosolized fecal matter on it.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:24 AM on October 7

Yeah I look for the actual thing you tell me to, not the ridiculous novelty sized version. Guess I'm the weirdo, eh science?
posted by masquesoporfavor at 6:47 PM on October 7

Bean plating about what constitutes a toothbrush in that image is the most positive thing on the blue for me this weekend.
posted by numaner at 10:26 PM on October 7 [1 favorite]

Size does matter. When I was in newspapers, all of us copy editing types agreed that there is an inverse relationship between type size and the likelihood of spotting an error. A typo in 12-point type stands a very good chance of getting corrected; a typo in a 60-point headline is virtually invisible. I think this is, in part, because one can't believe a headline writer could screw up a headline with so few letters in it.

I once put an earthquake in the wrong state in three decks of 48-point type, and no one saw it until we had actual newspapers in hand. (In my defense, "Oregon" fit better than "Washington State.")
posted by bryon at 12:47 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

Why We Miss Objects That Are Right in Front of Us.

Most people: wow, I totally missed that big toothbrush! It's like that video where people miss the gorilla until it's pointed out. I guess that we do tend to group data into familiar patterns and discard the rest. What an interesting point about human nature. Oh look, the 2nd link provides even extra context.

Metafilter: I didn't see the giant toothbrush right in front of me, just like everybody else, but It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'tooth' is!

What if the big toothbrush is actually regular sized and everything else is a tiny model? Whales! What if that parking meter is in proportion to the perspective and the car belongs to Ralph S. Mouse?
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:39 AM on October 8

I saw both toothbrushes. I am very attuned to noticing toothbrushes of all sizes. Even if I can't see a toothbrush, I can make a pretty accurate guess about where it is...or where it should be. Tbh I can't think of a time where I haven't seen a toothbrush. I've been seeing toothbrushes since I was a kid. It was difficult for my parents at first but they learned to live with me constantly seeing toothbrushes. I can look out any given window and with pinpoint accuracy tell you where all the toothbrushes are in the landscape. Sometimes it's all I think about. This is what toothbrush madness feels like.
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:31 PM on October 8 [3 favorites]

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