The white bear effect: the effects of modern technology on visual culture and the human psyche

Matthew Cornford, David Cross

Research output: Non-textual outputExhibition


The White Bear Effect 2012 LED screen showing Olympic highlights 4 x 3 metres De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, East Sussex. We hired a Light Emitting Diode (LED) screen, of the kind used at public and corporate events, to show a video compilation of from Olympic games around the world. We bought a DVD compilation of Olympic highlights, and deleted any scenes that did not feature the human body in sporting action. The size of the screen is determined by the height of the gallery ceiling. The position of the screen allows viewers to move right around it, and actively engage with the spatial dynamics of seeing. LED technology applies the phenomenon of additive colour by splitting the image into red, green and blue light, which appear to merge into white light at a certain distance. Close to, the screen produces an experience of immersion in a field of pulsing, coloured light. Further from the screen, the multiple points of light become recognizable as an image. Between the image and the screen is a zone that corresponds to the liminal space in art between abstraction and figuration, and in science between perception and cognition. In visual representation, perspective is used to produce the illusion that the picture plane is transparent, allowing imaginary access into the three-dimensional space depicted. To present an image, a screen occupies part of the viewer’s visual field, obscuring what lies behind. Yet in this installation the screen consists of LEDs set in an open framework of clear plastic tubes. So from the reverse of the screen it is possible for the viewer to remain in shadow while observing viewers illuminated the other side. Around the installation the viewer is able to move freely through a range of subject positions, including spectator, observer, watcher and performer. In our first conversation with neuroscientist Dr Richard Ramsey, he described ‘the white bear effect’, a paradox noted in 1863 by Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky, and tested over a century later in experiments by scientists Daniel Wegner and David Schneider. People instructed to suppress thoughts of a white bear find their thoughts flooded with thoughts of white bears. The scientists concluded that ‘attempted thought suppression has paradoxical effects as a self-control strategy, perhaps even producing the very obsession or preoccupation that it is directed against'.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherDe La Warr Pavilion
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2012
Eventexhibition - De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, 30 June - 16 Sep 2012
Duration: 30 Jun 2012 → …


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