I like to think I am pretty observant when I am out walking through the city, but I totally failed the “Awareness Test” video up above. How did you do? Transport for London recently put these video advertisements out to draw attention to the “invisible cyclist” and experiments such as this show how easy it is to miss small details—like a cyclist. More Awareness Tests available here.
My interest in this idea of awareness was piqued last year when I saw an article & video at Boing Boing (video after the click) describing a Harvard study on “Change Blindness” that demonstrated a shocking 75 percent of respondents didn’t notice a major change right in front of them. You’ll just have to watch the video.
Both examples demonstrate how little of our visual environment our brain actually processes. In the words of artist James Gurney, “Here’s proof that most of the time we look but don’t see.” [h/t Open Culture.]
This dancing bear video always shows up in cycling-fearmongering and it annoys me. Its no surprise that the brain acts with filters – otherwise there would just be too much stuff to perceive. If you tell someone to look at people in white, its not surprise that they filter out the people in black – which is what the bear is. Had it been an actual grizzly bear, and not a person in a bear-suit, you can bet you would have seen it – funny how the brain can suddenly focus on the appearance of larger predators!
Skilled bicyclists exploit these idiosyncrasies of the brain to make themselves more conspicuous. To give the most prominent example, consider “Lane Control”: The brain is very good at noticing stuff COMING RIGHT AT YOUR HEAD. That helps you dodge stuff and avoid strong blows to the head. Its so easy, even motorists can notice it! Therefore, as a cyclist, in many situations its better to ride in a horizontal lane position so that an overtaking driver is coming right at you. Other lane positions, like riding where the passenger sits, are not nearly as conspicuous, but hit you just as hard.
It seems like the video’s authors want to make you feel guilty for not seeing the bear, and thus also feel guilty about not seeing camoflauged right-riding cyclists. That’s stupid – your brain has filters or you wouldn’t be able to function.
In fact, the video should make you feel angry at your fellow motorists for harassing cyclists to the side of the road, and possibly angry at legislators for the ambiguous wording of the “slow moving vehicles far to the right” law. (KRS 189.300 (2), revised 2006).
The video should also make you realize that there’s more to bicycling than balancing. You do NOT know how to bicycle, unless you’ve taken a class in Confident Cycling or something similar.
"How many passes does the team in white make?" How the hell should I know? There's a bunch of them making passes at the same time. And I immediately saw the guy in the stupid bear suit – I guess it's a bear suit – so what?
This is 'tarded. It doesn't even begin to be a logical analogy to seeing bicyclists on the road, because cars on the road are not passing basketballs back and forth all over your field of vision, nor have you been tasked with making a game of counting them. The video asks you to dart your eyes all over the place in order to count the stupid balls, but in real life your eyes belong focused straight ahead at your lane.
I am more interested in the notion of awareness in general, not just whether someone sees a bicyclist (hence the second video). Any insights into our awareness of our urban environment whether you’re walking, biking, or driving?
I like the small details in the city and spend a lot of time looking for the hidden things when I walk around, but in any dynamic environment, there are changes that will go overlooked. Many people I observe don’t really look around – many walkers only look straight ahead or down and miss out on a lot of what’s going on in the city.