Can an invisible gorilla help you to think more clearly while under stress?

Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.

This basic psychology experiment has a group of students divided into two cohorts wearing black and white shirts. They pass a basketball around among themselves.

A short video of the game is shown to another group of students. They are asked to count the exact number of completed passes.

During this short experiment, a person wearing a gorilla suit wanders through the passing game, pounds chest, and walks out of the frame of view.

When the psychologists questioned the observers after watching the video, roughly half the students had not seen the gorilla.

They were so focused on trying to correctly do the assigned task that they missed the gorilla.

But do not be quick to laugh off this academic exercise. All of us tend to see only what we are looking for and miss a lot of other important stuff.

In a stressful period of ongoing pandemic, optimists will tend to unconsciously look for news stories that confirm their positive point of view. For instance, the 103-year-old Oregon man who beat the coronavirus and lived to celebrate his 104th birthday.

Conversely, pessimists will unconsciously seek out articles that confirm their more negative view of the world. This includes horrific stories and photos from New York City of overflowing makeshift morgues.

Both the more sanguine and morose among us are each seeing a very real part of the picture.

Perhaps the most important question to ask is what information can help me, my loved ones, and my community to better cope with a pandemic of uncertain duration and outcome?

Metaphorically, it means both carefully counting the passes and keeping an eye out for a menacing gorilla—or the faint fluttering of a bluebird of hope.

For those of you who wish to learn more about the famous “invisible gorilla” experiment, here is a link to a short and insightful Scientific American blog post. It includes videos of the “invisible gorilla” experiment.

Assessing risk…one bite of chocolate at time.

Most of us are not credentialed insurance actuaries or bio statisticians. We cannot do technical risk analysis; we cannot see through our clouded emotions to ascertain the most likely outcomes of our actions.

Even the experts doing the big-picture mathematical modeling of the coronavirus pandemic are the first to caution the public that their projections are founded on “best guess” assumptions, and insufficient and often flawed data.

(These disclaimers are seldom touted by the media in their quest for capturing eyeballs and clicks.)

Unfortunately, circumstances now demand that all of us must make daily calculated risks without sufficient expertise or complete information. And, for those of us over 60 with compromised immune systems, these mundane decisions could be matters of life or death.

Even seemingly healthy people in the prime of life can catch COVID-19 and have a terrible time with the fever and associated respiratory problems.

Also, it seems that one can get sick from the virus more than once. A single bout of the disease might not ensure immunity to future infection.

My wife and I just completed a rather mundane, and in better times, trivial “risk analysis” about me going out to purchase dark chocolate.

Our 34-year-old daughter has been grocery shopping for us for the last several weeks. It is something for which we are most grateful, but not happy about. But we accept the situation as the new normal.

Unfortunately, the Publix food store near her was totally out of chocolate. However, an independently owned Schakolad Chocolate Factory shop near us was open and largely bereft of customers.

Both my wife and I are diabetics and can only eat a small amount of sugar-free confections, or items with very high cocoa content and low carb. But, slowly eating dark chocolate brings considerable pleasure into our lives. It is about the only sweet confection in which we can occasionally indulge.

After a few days of Hamlet-like rumination of to “buy or not to buy” and analyzing the various slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, it was decided:

Amy will place a pick-up order by phone. I would wear a wife-made DIY mask and white cotton photography gloves, and take delivery outside the confines of the shop.

As it turned out, the streets of St. Petersburg were largely deserted and the Schakolad store empty of customers. The whole transaction of phoning the clerk from outside the glass door and retrieving the bag of goodies was literally under 20 seconds—maybe less.

The total purchase was about $71.00 for about 2.5 pounds of delicious sugar-free chocolate. This modest purchase will help the entrepreneurial owners of the chocolate shop pay their hardworking and dedicated staff.

By chance, while I was typing this blog entry, my wife was perusing Facebook.

She noticed an entry on a local page that the Schakolad Chocolate Factory had just donated well over 100 goody-filled Easter baskets to the children of healthcare workers at St. Anthony’s Hospital.

Now everyone can have some sweet moments in a dark time.

Our small risk/reward decision turned out to be a good one. The pandemic is projected to peak here in the Tampa Bay over the next four weeks. It will inevitably kill the most vulnerable.

Yet there is reason to believe that kindness, goodwill, and self-sacrifice will also reach its zenith during the period of ascending misery.