Sunday, March 15, 2009

Visual Betrayal

Journal Post:Weight,177.4 lbs; Money Found,$1.55, 25 pennies, 4 nickels, 1 dime, 1 one dollar bill. Glass bottles retrieved, 12.

Blog Post: The fast MoneyWalker might walk blocks and blocks searching for the next coin with no success. Then, there it is, a treasured coin. But now the fear, the fast walking MoneyWalker must be very careful not to leave money on the ground. Not from overlooking a solo coin, but from missing a “scatter,” a multiple coin incident.

Playing it out in virtual time, the heart rate BPM is on target—125 BPM. Visual focusing is street centered, downward, and with appropriate back-and-forth scanning. Mental processing is on task, the goal of finding money is driving the frontal lobe, no competition with the retreating economy or heavy drags from the realities of daily living. And then, it happens, a coin is spotted. What happens next is involuntary, below the awareness of conscious control. The brain reacts to the coin as if it is a “sudden and intense stimulus.” (R.A. Schmidt and T.D. Lee, 1999, Motor Control and Learning, Vol. 3) This phenomenon is termed perceptual narrowing. Schmidt and Lee indicate that arousal from the sudden powerful stimulus causes “…increased narrowing of the attentional focus with a progressive elimination of input from the more peripheral aspects of the environment.” Perceptual narrowing is momentary, but last long enough to cause the MoneyWalker to overlook the precious stimulus of a multiple coin presentation. One coin is relatively easy to spot, but people often lose coins in groups. I call such opportunities “scatters.” But when the eyes spot one coin, the brain is influenced by its evolution, and perceptual narrowing occurs. Thus, a second or third coin, often not more than 12 inches away is completely overlooked because it is in the periphery of the now much narrowed perceptual field. The uninformed might just walk away in search of the next find not realizing that additional coins are right in the present.

Perceptual narrowing happens to the MoneyWalker frequently. My solution is to be aware of the perceptual trap and avoid becoming “hypervigilant.” As I find one coin, I automatically assume that a second or third coin is in the same area. I gain conscious control of my visual perceptual process and use “cognitive override” to slow down the intensity of having just found a coin and consciously and systematically visually search for the area around the found coin. This technique is slow and time consuming, but it avoids the betrayal of a visual perceptual system designed to produce vigilance when vigilance is not needed.

So, when you spot a coin, do what the MoneyWalker does—relax, avoid hypervigilance, take control of your perceptual processes, and look for that scatter of coins that might otherwise be overlooked.


No comments:

Post a Comment