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Perception by Maddy and Martina

We think that the human brain is the most fascinating "machine" of all. We're especially curious about what humans remember when their minds are focused on conversations or activities. Our question: How well can people pay attention to two things at once?

What did we do?
We gathered six of our friends to play a game of soccer. We told our friends to form a circle and keep passing the ball around, counting out loud how many passes they made before someone made a mistake. We DIDN'T tell our friends that during the game, a juggler was going to come out from behind some trees and juggle batons near the game and then go away again. We wanted to find out if our friends would notice the juggler and be able to describe her accurately. We wrote a list of interview questions to ask each friend about what he or she saw.

What did we find out?
We discovered that most of our friends didn't even mention the juggler when we asked how the soccer game went. But when we asked if the soccer players saw the juggler, they all insisted that they had. However, almost nobody described the juggler's hair and clothes correctly, even though they were sure they had it right. We concluded that when people are focused on one activity and something unusual happens, they don't pick up on all the details of the unusual event.

What can you do?
  • Try listening to two conversations at once and then recount as much as you can about each conversation. How many details can you remember accurately?
  • How often do you see people driving while putting on make-up or talking on a cell phone? Call your local police department and ask if there has been an increase in accidents among cell phone users.
  • Use this human body investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
more resources
Go to the DFTV Boards, and tell us about your science investigation.
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