Dancing Gorillas and The Quest for Attentive Excellence

October 3, 2023

In a complex world, the nuances of focus and attention strongly influence success and failure. The iconic ‘Invisible Gorilla’ experiment, conducted by Harvard researchers Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons in 1999, offers a compelling demonstration of this idea.

Imagine watching a short video in which two teams, one team wearing white shirts and the other wearing black shirts, repeatedly pass basketballs to each other. In the experiment, the simple task is to count the total number of passes made by members of the team wearing white shirts. While participants are engrossed in counting, an individual wearing a gorilla suit saunters into the scene, pounds its chest, and exits. They would notice such an obvious interruption, would they not? Well, surprisingly, about half of the participants in this experiment never noticed the gorilla. They were so focused on counting passes that they completely missed the dancing gorilla entering and exiting the stage. Want to see it for yourself? A link to the video is available at the bottom of this page.

But perhaps chest passes and dancing gorillas are a bit trivial. Let’s elevate the stakes. In a variation of the invisible gorilla experiment, radiologists, with their trained eyes and years of expertise were asked to perform a familiar task of detecting a small lung nodule on a CT scan. The scan they were shown was standard with one major exception. The image of a gorilla, roughly 48 times the size of an average nodule, was discreetly inserted into the image. The result? A staggering number overlooked the gorilla. In fact, 83% of the radiologists overlooked it. If seasoned professionals could miss such an anomaly, it begs the question: what do we naturally and routinely overlook, and how can we broaden our focus and awareness to achieve greater success?

The Culprit: Inattentional Blindness

This phenomenon, aptly termed ‘inattentional blindness’, reveals our mind’s ability to filter out stimuli deemed unrelated to our primary task. While this ability allows us to focus, it can also render us oblivious to the unexpected.

Inattentional blindness is something we at American Trust are concerned about for a variety of reasons. One significant application of this concept relates to how we interact, communicate, and keep our clients informed and focused on their goals. Another meaningful application is how we, as investment managers and financial advisors, maintain focus relative to the vast landscape of financial and economic phenomena impacting investors daily.

Communication is a key component of the broad awareness we hope to offer our clients. In September, we were thrilled to launch the new AmericanTrustWealth.com website and client portal. This dedicated portal is designed to capture the essence of our long-standing community presence and its intuitive user interface design, accentuated color palette, and user-friendly navigation provide unhindered access to a reservoir of market commentaries, blog posts, and financial resources.

Our reimagined client portal offers not just an enhanced aesthetic, but a dashboard brimming with invaluable portfolio insights. Whether it’s real-time performance data, fiduciary monitoring investment scores, or in-depth research, all are available at your fingertips or in the palm of your hand with the addition of a mobile app to help you access portfolio details on-the-go.

The purpose behind these enhancements is clear: fostering a user experience that’s as insightful as it is interactive, and truthfully, no more interactive than it needs to be. Our commitment to this endeavor ensures that the digital interfaces are not just repositories of information but conduits for meaningful client interactions.

Finance, Investing, and the Invisible Gorillas

In addition to client communications and reporting elements, we may also draw parallels to our initial discussion within the realm of finance and investing, which brims with its own invisible gorillas—be it overlooked market trends or emerging risks.

In recognizing this, American Trust’s annual capital market forecast update process serves as our deliberate pause, our concerted effort to spot these hidden anomalies. Our methodical approach involves updating long-term return assumptions. Delving into the granular, we analyze the building blocks that drive returns in fixed income, equity, and alternative assets. Our risk assumptions don’t rest on mere surface-level analysis. They dive into the depths of volatility, correlation, and by extension, covariance. By integrating sophisticated statistical methods with historical awareness, we aim to derive a balanced, insightful outlook.

Annually, these fresh insights empower us to re-evaluate our asset allocation strategies. Rigorous prudency testing ensures that our portfolios are not only sound in their standalone capacities but also in comparison to benchmark portfolios and prior strategic iterations.

This meticulous annual review is more than a routine. It grants our Trust Investment Committee a panoramic view of the financial and economic landscape. A view that discerns potential opportunities, preemptively addresses systemic risks, and equips us to navigate the market’s intricate dance—spotting dancing gorillas while dodging flying basketballs—to ensure that our clients’ wealth grows with both prudence and vision.


As we embrace these innovations and embark on our annual capital market forecast update, our foremost thought remains unwavering—gratitude for the trust you’ve bestowed upon us through our partnership together. We remain committed to our pledge of attentive excellence, ensuring that your wealth is not just managed but nurtured.

For any further insights or if the winds of change have reshaped your financial aspirations, please do not hesitate to connect with your fiduciary investment advisor.


Invisible Gorilla Experiment video

Invisible Gorilla Experiment (Radiology)

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