SCIENCE SCAN

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

PSYCHOLOGY

Making monkeys of ourselves

"The Invisible Gorilla" (Crown, $27)

Based on one of the best-known experiments in psychology, this book sets out to demonstrate the limits of human perception. First, some background: In 1999, psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons of Harvard University asked people to watch a video of people playing basketball and to count the number of passes. Immersed in this task, half of the participants failed to notice a person in a gorilla suit walk in front of the camera. Chabris and Simons expand upon this failure of perception by addressing six areas of faulty human intuition: attention, memory, confidence, knowledge, cause and potential. "Every time we talk on a cellphone while driving, believing we're still paying enough attention to the road, we've been affected by one of these illusions," the authors write. The take-away message of the book is to "be wary of your intuitions, especially intuitions about how your own mind works."

SPORTS AND GENES

DNA=MVP? LOL.

Sports Illustrated, May 17 issue

SI staff writer David Epstein, who covers medical and scientific issues in sports, explores the role of genetics in athletic performance in an article called "Sports Genes." He introduces readers to University of Glasgow biologist Yannis Pitsiladis, who always travels with a few cotton swabs and zip-lock bags just in case he runs into a world record holder and can get a DNA sample. Epstein analyzes the nature and nurture of athletic greatness, determines that there's no such thing as a perfect specimen (no, not even Lance Armstrong) and debunks the idea that East Africans are superior long-distance runners on account of their genes. "How many of the top Kenyan runners have sons or daughters who are excelling at running?" asks Pitsiladis. "Almost none. Why? Because their father or mother becomes a world champion, has incredible resources, and the child never has to run to school again."

-- Rachel Saslow


© 2010 The Washington Post Company