The Invisible Gorilla’s Lesson for HR Pros

Any human-resource professional who conducts internal investigations of employee complaints (i.e., discrimination, harassment, bullying) would be well advised to read the new book, The Invisible Gorilla.  The book is written by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, the two minds who collaborated on a famous psychological experiment for which they were awarded the Ig Nobel Prize in Psychology. 

If you haven’t heard of the “gorilla experiment” (also known as a “selective-attention test”), you can (and should) check it out on the authors’ website.  You can watch the video to take the test-but be warned that you may be very, very surprised by the results!  According to the authors:

This experiment reveals two things: that we are missing a lot of what goes on around us, and that we have no idea that we are missing so much.

And they’re not kidding.  As they explain in the the book, we have an amazing ability not to see what’s going on around us.  And, as also explained in the book, we also have an amazing ability to remember facts incorrectly; in other words, we get the story really, really wrong.  More notable, though, is how convinced we become that our memory is accurate. In fact, we are so sure that our recall of a traumatic event is correct that we can’t be convinced even with documentary evidence.

So how does this potentially affect HR?  At a minimum, the authors’ findings will change the way you conduct your next internal investigation. When you’re interviewing potential witnesses, you will be keenly aware of the tricks that our memories can play on us-and how convinced we can be that our memories are not being tricked at all.

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