Skip to content
Skip to main content
  • Video
  • 5 minutes

Did you see it? The magic of misdirection

Updated Monday, 8th September 2008
Are you pretty sharp? Do you pride yourself on your Holmes-like powers of observation? Try watching the 'Bet You Can't Do This' video

This page was published over 14 years ago. Please be aware that due to the passage of time, the information provided on this page may be out of date or otherwise inaccurate, and any views or opinions expressed may no longer be relevant. Some technical elements such as audio-visual and interactive media may no longer work. For more detail, see how we deal with older content.

Make sure you've got the sound on your computer turned on when you watch this video.

Narrator (Rissa de la Paz)
Here’s a quick test of your powers of perception.  There are two red files and two green files.  Count how many times this red file is passed from one person to another in the next 20 seconds.  Ready?  Start Counting.

[Music plays]

OK, so how many times did they pass it?  If you’ve got near to eight you’ve done pretty well.  But just how much were you paying attention?  Watch again.

[Music plays]

You may have spotted that this giant mouse joined halfway through the game and then left again.  Did you notice?  This is called inattentive blindness, not being able to see things that are actually there, which can be the result of having to think hard about one thing and so not noticing something else.


Discuss this video, and watch other thought-provoking films on the OU YouTube channel.

The explanation

You might be wondering how we hid a mouse in the video. The ruse was powered by something called inattentional blindness.

Inattentional blindness (also called perceptual blindness) is really just the academic term for something magicians rely on everyday – misdirection. But it’s of real interest to psychologists – in fact our clip is based on an original experiment carried out by Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois and another by Christopher Chabris of Harvard University. The question they were interested in trying to explore is just how much of what we see (or don’t see) is a result of our attention.

Small things can make a difference… so you might see that everyone is wearing clothes that are similar in colour to the mouse. Also we added a few red items to the scene to ensure the mouse’s belt didn’t stick out too much.

There are really important consequences to this sort of research. For example, psychologists play a key role in the design of things like road signs – just how do you ensure that drivers concentrating (hopefully) on the road will see things?

What could you do next?


Become an OU student

Ratings & Comments

Share this free course

Copyright information

Skip Rate and Review

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

Have a question?