We started with a video of two teams passing basketballs around, as in Neisser’s early study.Then we superimposed a video of a young black man or a young white man walking across the screen.

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Although attitudes toward all of these topics have become steadily less prejudiced since the 1960’s, the gap between close and far social distances has remained remarkably constant.

We told groups of white women that in a few minutes they would be asked to look through some online profiles of men to pick the best match for one of several roles.

That’s how we are able to concentrate on anything at all and leave behind the blooming, buzzing bundle of distraction that is the rest of the world.

It is also why being absorbed in a basketball game renders us blissfully oblivious to all requests to take out the garbage.

The key is to realize that this is just what attention is: selectivity.

For a brain with finite computing power, zooming in to focus on one thing always means picking up less information about everything else.Okay, that stunt was not a very good experiment, but twenty years later the eminent psychologist Ulric Neisser did a better job.He filmed a video of two teams of students passing a basketball back and forth, and superimposed another video of a girl with an umbrella walking right through the center of the screen.For decades, social scientists have known that prejudices show a social distance effect: people are more approving of stereotyped groups at a cold, impersonal distance than when they are up close and personal.For instance, polls show that whites are more likely to support equality for black Americans at a distance (such as saying that they support integrated neighborhoods and workplaces) than to support close personal ties (such as saying that they approve of someone in their family having an inter-racial marriage).The real question was whether the women would be more likely to see the white man when they on the lookout for a close connection.