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Is your brain tricking you?

Observation is a powerful tool. But are we observing or inferring?

Our brain is the most powerful tool at our disposal. It can benefit us immensely, but it can also deceive us.

Our brain can be lazy at times and if we are not paying attention, it will take a short cut and make us believe we are seeing things which are not there.


As part of Glittering Minds program for primary schools, we teach students different research methods. One of the research methods we are teaching is observation, which is an important tool as it helps us gain an understanding on humans’ behaviour.

One of the tasks students are given, for practising and developing observation skills, is looking at a picture and writing down what they can observe.

It is interesting to see students write down inferences as observations. Students add their own assumptions as factual details in the picture.



Take a moment to look at the picture below. What do you see?


Most students say they see a happy woman with a cup of coffee.

What can be seen is a woman holding a cup which seems to have steam coming out of it. We don’t know what’s in the cup. Is it coffee? Tea? Soup? Some other hot thing?

She also smiles – is it because she is happy or just posing for the artist?

Since we are in Melbourne, our brain can easily add the assumption that this is a cup of coffee (Quite a safe bet in Melbourne 😊). And since it’s a Melbournian coffee, a smile can be interpreted as happiness over a good cup of coffee.


Observation is a powerful tool, but we need to be alert and question whether what we think we see is truly there or it’s our brain adding assumptions and guesses.




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