Out of Sight, Out of Mind

In 2014, during an NFL game between the New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons, Saints quarterback Drew Brees threw the ball right into Falcons opponent Matt Ryan’s hands — like he didn’t even see him. The quarterback likely didn’t see his opponent standing right in front of him. That’s because it turns out that our brains often leave things out, even though they’re plainly in sight. Researchers at the University of California in Berkeley have made new discoveries about how the brain organizes visual perception. The frontal cortex is often seen as our “thinking cap” — the part of the brain where decisions are made — but it’s not commonly connected with vision. We think our vision is like a camera, but it’s not. Our brains aren’t just seeing, they’re actively constructing the visual scene and making decisions about it. Sometimes, the frontal cortex isn’t expecting to see something, so even though it’s in plain sight, it blots it out of our consciousness. Believing is part of seeing when the brain picks out part of the available visual stimuli to actually pay attention to. In the case of the quarterback, this might mean focusing on the route the receiver needs to take. The brain then merges the visual information with other material. The quarterback’s brain was putting what he actually saw together with expectations based on the play he called. Then comes evaluation. The quarterback needed to decide whether to release the ball, given everything he had processed. Expecting a blocker to stop the opposing player (which didn’t happen), he may have blotted him out of perception and thrown the ball right at him…….interception. Distraction is often the culprit, because it overtaxes the organization of perception. Add too much to the pile and you can do the complete opposite of what you intended to do.