Monday, 24 March 2014

Prime witness

UFO and treeThere's an interesting article in this week's New Scientist about priming. This is, of course, a subject of vital interest to anomaly researchers. Studies show that people can be primed to notice things they might normally ignore. And, when asked, the people do not remember seeing the object (usually a picture or word) used to prime them! It can even overcome inattentional blindness (IB). I often mention here how people notice very little of what is going on around them. This is IB in action. Few people, for instance, notice the wildlife all around them as they walk along a suburban street. I notice it only because I have a deep interest in natural history. You could say that my interest has primed me to overcome IB, at least for wildlife. I've no doubt there are plenty of other things going on I also fail to notice.

I have often thought that priming might explain why I nowadays tend to notice misperception, when I never did before I realised what it was. However, you don't need to take a deep interest in a subject to be primed to notice things related to it. As mentioned above, a single word or picture can be enough, at least for a short-term priming effect. It is, therefore, important for investigators to note that a witness having no previous interest in anomalous phenomena does NOT, of itself, make them any more reliable as witnesses!

It's easy to see how priming could apply in a UFO case. Suppose, for instance, a witness noticed a headline in a newspaper about a UFO sighting. They might then notice something oddly silent and unfamiliar in the sky (like the photo above right), and report it as a UFO, despite having never had any previous interest in ufology. And they probably wouldn't even remember seeing the headline! This could explain how UFO flaps occur. You could see the same effect occurring if someone casually heard about the kind of things that happen during a haunting. They might start to notice odd noises in a building, that they would previously have ignored, and wonder if a ghost might be responsible.

UFO helicopterThe object in the recent photo above was, indeed, silent and motionless and looked distinctly odd for a short time. However a telephoto view (photo right) quickly revealed that it was, as suspected, a helicopter a kilometre or two away.

Another topic covered in New Scientist this week was camouflage. It is not all about having a similar coloring and pattern to your background. Some objects can, counter intuitively, 'disappear' by virtue of being boldly patterned. Such patterns break up the outline of the object, making it difficult to spot. One example would by one of my favourite birds, the Magpie. I mention this because recently, on two separate occasions, I was completely confident that I had seen a Magpie when, on closer examination, it turned out to be something else entirely that had a similar bold black and white pattern. In my defence, both objects were Magpie sized, in the distance and in exactly the sort of location I'd expect to see such a bird! I've already added boldly patterned objects to the list of things that can trigger misperception!

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