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It's Probably Nothing

It's not just the wind. It's not all in your head. And it's definitely something to worry about.
Bump in the Night, Magic: The Gathering, in the Flavor Text

... except when it's not!

One of the heroes receives a broad hint that something unpleasant might happen — any kind of bad thing, from the plans of a Mole to a debilitating disease. It could come in the form of a prophecy, an important clue picked up off a defeated enemy, an inconclusive medical test... the form varies depending on the context.

In a classic example of Genre Blindness, the hero carefully evaluates the hint and concludes almost immediately that it is most likely meaningless, regardless of the reliability of its source. And he will keep doing that even though additional, corroborating hints start showing up, until it is almost too late.

Because if he didn't, he'd solve the mystery, foil the criminal, or seek out proper treatment in the first act of the show, and then where would we be for the next forty-five minutes?

Which is why, on the rare circumstance that the hero does go after it — it proves to be a Red Herring.

Many security guards (especially in video games, for gameplay reasons) are prone to this as well. Hearing a noise or seeing something out of the corner of their eye, they'll investigate for a moment, or their "more experienced" partner will tell them it's just a rat, or a stray dog, or something else innocuous, and say something along the lines of "It's probably nothing". At which point they get knocked out/captured/killed/eaten. (See The Guards Must Be Crazy.)

This is an instance of someone holding the Idiot Ball, provided the event is out of the ordinary in some way. Expect The Great Detective to berate the fool for his casual dismissal of the occurrence, probably during The Reveal.

Possibly the opposite of a Cat Scare. Not to be confused with Within Parameters, which is related. Also related to Convenient Decoy Cat.

A case of some Truth in Television as each area has a large assortment of ambient sounds that individuals become familiar with and often ignore possibly at their detriment. Similarly, as a part of the "denial response" or "freeze response" that is just as much a reaction to danger as fight or flight, it is also Truth in Television that people tend to dismiss or ignore unusual bodily symptoms (even those of blatant heart attacks or strokes or obvious cancers), fail to call the fire department during the early stages of a potential fire, insist on ignoring tornado warnings until they can sight the tornado, often don't flee or shelter from disasters in general, and don't flee or defend against criminal attack (even to the degree of locking doors or calling police) until it's far too late. The key to not letting this trope kill you in real life is to keep in mind that if you are saying "it's probably nothing," something has made you say that, and further investigation (or in the case of a disaster, just getting the hell out of there and/or obeying the warnings) might be an inconvenience that proves it was nothing after all, or it might save your life.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series example, as well as the original; Tristan somehow manages to sneak up on a guard while wearing a full suit of plate armor for no well-defined reason.
  • Played with in the Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Sonic is relaxing on the beach and Tails goes out to the ocean to try his new machine, it goes out of control and he begins screaming for Sonic to help him. Sonic, who just wants to relax, dismisses it as "probably nothing". Tails continues screaming for Sonic, and he finally yells at him to shut up.
  • Played straight in Fullmetal Alchemist when anytime the plot calls on Alphonse to rescue Ed, you are almost guaranteed a scene with a giant suit of armor sneaking around.
    • Let's not forget when Edward asked do you think the Führer could be a Homunculus, he and his brother busted out laughing at how ridiculous that sounded.
  • In the Yotsuba Arc of Death Note, Memoryless!Light considers the possibility that he may be Kira, finds it a bit too likely for comfort and so dismisses it.
  • Ranma ˝:
    Genma: What's that?
    Soun: The wind, probably.
  • Jojos Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders. The team has been chased around the world by characters with mysterious powers that manifest in all sorts of crazy ways, they end up in a strangely lifeless town covered in fog in India, and after being rudely brushed off by a store owner, Joseph notices roaches crawling on the man's neck. The natural reaction? "I must've been imagining things."

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live Action 
  • Used at least twice in Star Wars. In A New Hope, Obi-Wan uses it against two stormtroopers on the Death Star to cover his escape. Though in that case it really was nothing. In Revenge of the Sith, two Super Battle Droids are investigating the crashed Jedi starfighters in the hangar bay. When one hears Artoo lurking in a corner, the other stops him, saying it's nothing.
    • After the characters watch Star Wars 4-6 in Spaced, Tim declares that entire plot wouldn't have happened if the Imperial gunner in A New Hope hadn't dismissed the escape pod carrying R2D2 and C3PO down to Tatooine as nothing to worry about.
    • Humourously referenced in Family Guy: Blue Harvest. "Wait, hold your fire, there are no life forms aboard that vessel", "Wait, hold your fire? What, are we paying by the laser now?" "Hey Terry, you don't do the budget but I DO."
  • Spider-Man 3, when Marko's presence in the test chamber is immediately dismissed as just a bird.
  • Played with in Pan's Labyrinth. Early in the movie, Ofelia hears some creepy noises coming from the walls of the house at night, and her mother explains it as the sounds of the house settling. Later, Ofelia narrowly escapes the Pale Man's lair with the Pale Man chasing after her; and once she gets back into the house, the Pale Man pounding on the door behind her makes the exact same "house-settling" noises Ofelia heard earlier.
  • In Duck Soup, spy Pinky thinks he's opening a wall safe, but instead turns on a radio that plays loud brass band music. His partner Chicolini explains the sudden noise: "Sounds to me like mice!"

    Literature 
  • James Ellroy typically does quite a convincing job of this, as we really can't blame the cops a lot of times for ignoring details that genuinely seem inconsequential. It's their bad luck that they're being written by a guy who loves coming up with insanely complicated stories where every little detail matters.
  • In the Grimm's Fairly Tales version of Hansel and Gretel, the title siblings hear a voice from within the house, but remark "Never mind, it is the wind."
  • In the Solomon Kane story Footfalls Within, by Robert E. Howard, the titular footfalls are blithely dismissed as "nothing" by a bunch of slavers, with foreseeable consequences.
  • In Remnants, the programmer of a computer-based perimeter security system puts in a backdoor — the program assumes that any intruder emitting a certain high-pitched tone is a wild pig. This is very useful when he needs to sneak onto a Space Shuttle.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: "If there's nothing out there, then what was that noise?"
  • Here's a fun Drinking Game: Take a sip every time someone in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) says, "It's only the wind" or something like.
  • In the Warrior Cats novel The Forgotten Warrior, Tigerheart warns Dovewing that Dawnpelt believes that Jayfeather killed Flametail, but she brushes it off as nothing several times. Near the climax of the book, Dawnpelt accuses Jayfeather of the murder at a gathering, causing an uproar and making many clan cats hate Jayfeather.
  • Quite common in Galaxy of Fear, even a few books into the series when you'd think, after constant hazards and all the times it was not nothing, people would be paying attention. Later they learn, a bit, but that just leads to more Red Herring moments.

  • Subverted in late chapters of Water Margin. When Zhang Shun, one of the main characters, is scouting under the walls of Hangzhou, held by rebels under Fang La, he tests the guards' alertness by tossing a lump of clay over the wall. The guards respond by talking aloud that it is probably nothing, but are in fact fully alerted, waiting for something out of ordinary to emerge. When Zhang Shun emerges from his hiding place thinking he is safe, he is struck by a hail of arrows.

    Live Action TV 
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000, episode 904 "Werewolf":
    Natalie: What was that noise?
    Yuri: It was probably just a car on the highway.
    Crow T. Robot: Yes, a car that sounds just like a wolf.
  • Full House:
    Steve: It's probably just the wind.
    Stephanie: Just the wind? Just the wind?! It's never JUST THE WIND!
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Buffy episode "Doomed", Giles dismisses an earthquake as "shifting landmasses". On the one hand, he is in Southern California. On the other hand, as Buffy points out, the last time they had a decent earthquake in Sunnydale, she died. Buffy is proven right, as it turns out to be a portent of the apocalypse.
  • The Twilight Zone, "The Purple Testament", three wounded soldiers conclude that the "explosion" sound must just be thunder.
  • In the mini-series Shackleton, after the Endurance is trapped in the Antarctic ice, the crew hears an ominous grinding sound and feels the ship move. Shackleton (Kenneth Branagh) insists that it's the result of a whale mistaking the ship for a hole in the ice. It isn't.
  • Power Rangers Dino Thunder: In the first episode, the three soon-to-be-Rangers hear the Mooks of the year coming for them. Kira suggests (without much hope) that it's the wind, and Ethan proves his Genre Savvy by disagreeing.
    "That ain't the wind. As much as we'd like it to be... it ain't."

    Poetry 

    Tabletop Games 

    Theater 
  • Gilbert and Sullivan inflicted this on the entire crew of H.M.S. Pinafore as they try to sneak the eloping lovers off the ship:
    All: (much alarmed) Goodness me! Why, what was that?
    Dick: Silent be, it was the cat!
    All: (reassured) It was—it was the cat!
    Captain: (producing cat o' nine tails) They're right, it was the cat!
  • The Pirates of Penzance, by the same team, has the song "With Catlike Tread". The titular pirates, while sneaking into Major-General Stanley's estate, sing at the top of their lungs about how they're being silent. The very next song starts with the Major-General mentioning that he "thought I heard a noise", and concluding that "it must have been the sighing of the breeze." (Pirates was, at the time of its release, criticized for having the same plot as Pinafore.)
    • Better yet, the Pirates and Policemen are making loud comments in the background "He though he heard a noise. HA HA!" and then join in his song "Sighing Softly To The River" without him catching on right up until the finale kicks in.
  • A famous operatic example is the scene in Hansel and Gretel where the children are busily taking pieces off the Gingerbread House and eating them. Twice, a voice from inside demands to know who's been nibbling at her house, the children think for a moment, and they declare it was the wind, the heavenly child.

    Video Games 
  • The staple of the Stealth-Based Game, or rather, any game with a stealth element.
  • Half-Life is probably the trope namer for this one.
    • "Uh... it's probably not a problem... probably... but I'm showing a small discrepancy in the— well, no, it's well within acceptable bounds again. Sustaining sequence." For those who have never played the game, this is about 20 seconds before things hit the fan.
    • Beautifully averted at one point, when Gordon is climbing through some vents and making noise. Soldiers down below hear him and, rather than dismiss the noise as a headcrab or something, shoot the hell out of it and cause it to fall off the ceiling. Another time a soldier hears Freeman climbing through a pipe, and responds by tossing a satchel charge into it. A refreshing case of the enemies not being total morons.
  • In the game Tenchu, fighting a guard automatically raises the alarm. Guards who were, just a moment ago, attacked with katanas will dismiss the incident as being caused by a dog!
    • This is one of the more common and ridiculous occurrences in the Tenchu series. In Wrath of Heaven you can drop down on one guards head, snap his neck with a sickening sound in front of another guard, then as the guard pursues, jump up on a roof and hide, only to hear the guard pause and say "Ah forget it."
  • The guards in Thief do this a lot. Torch that's been clearly doused with a water arrow, presumably leaving puddles of water all over the place? "Must've been the wind." Large metal object falling down, making a stupid amount of noise? "Hmm... must be my imagination." Et cetera.
    • A Running Gag in the series is everyone blaming mysterious noises on rats.
  • The AI in Oblivion does this to the point that it is just sad (e.g., dismissing an arrow in their back as the wind) especially when the AI was something that was hyped up to no end before the game was released.
    • Even worse, they won't even react if their buddy's corpse is lying next to them. But move a little too close to them and they start charging at you.
    • It's even possible for a stealthy enough character in Oblivion to sneak up on two NPCs chatting away with each other, cut the conversation short by stabbing one in the back, and the other NPC won't so much as react to their friend being Killed Mid-Sentence.
    • Alive and well in Skyrim as well, though Bethesda seems to be making some progress. The AI reacts to sneak attacks from a warrior or a mage fairly competently: it's fairly hard to maintain the element of surprise or stay concealed when clanking around in heavy armor or throwing lightning bolts around.
  • Likewise, in Beyond Good & Evil you can hit a guard in his air tank — and the other guards will just fix the tank and declare "false alarm".
  • Averted in Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood. Guards always check every noise, explore every inch of the room, will free anyone who was tied up, and will report corpses that they haven't already seen to their captain.
  • Averted in Metal Gear, where guards would always check to make sure it's actually "nothing". The ones in Metal Gear Solid 2 would actually search every nook and cranny of the room you were seen disappearing into, and even if they don't find you, extra guards would be sent to patrol that sector.
  • Splinter Cell has guards as thorough as (if not more so than) the ones in Metal Gear Solid. Worse, they have far too many ways to remove the shadows you rely on. The guards early in the game have flashlights and flares. The Chinese soldiers have headband-mounted lights. Not to be outdone, the Georgian Special Forces have night-vision goggles. By the third game, enemies with thermal-vision start showing up, complete with x-ray vision.
    • Of course there are still mooks who have no special way of seeing in the dark, and they fit the trope perfectly. There is a co-op level in Chaos Theory where you can enter a room with two guards watching a sports game on TV. Shooting out the TV then quickly leaving the room results in them waldering around for a bit, then going back to the couch with a 'probably the wind' comment and watching their shot out TV. Good job guards.
    • This is actually Lampshaded by the enemies: if the player makes a loud enough noise without being seen, there's a randomly-occuring exchange where one guard says "It's probably—" but is then abruptly cut off by his partner, who tells him that it's never "just nothing".
  • In the first Predator stage of the original Alien vs. Predator PC game, after gibbing a guard in the opening cutscene, you can hear the base's Mission Control: "Unit Two, report in... Report in, Unit Two... Unit Two, do you copy?! Damn, his comm must be down." You're doing these idiots a favor when you kill them.
  • Deus Ex downplays this. Guards will first investigate, then wonder where you are, before deciding you aren't around — but it takes all of ten seconds. Often they can be heard to utter "He's miles away by now" when J.C. hides behind a box in a dead end.
    • If you shoot a guard in the face with a tranquilizer dart and hide, he'll run around for a moment, then (because the drug in one dart isn't enough to knock them out) return to his patrol with the arrow sticking out of his face.
  • In a Shout-Out to this trope, the very nastiest event in Europa Universalis 2 ("The White Lotus Rebellion") has two options, one of which "It's likely just harmless talk." (Cue 30% revolt-risk.) The OTHER option gives you half that revolt-risk, but costs you an arm and a leg.
  • Averted in Death to Spies. If any enemy even spots a body, sees the player for too long, hears any noise (except the silenced pistol), or if the player has any visible Soviet gear on at all — even after changing uniform —, has a weapon out (unless dressed as a patrolman, and then only a weapon that the others have, usually an MP-40), is doing something that doesn't match the disguise's purpose or rank (stealing a truck without being in an officer or driver's uniform) or is a patrolman/officer who can recognize if you are not one of them, they will almost immediately upon entering their "sight confirmation" begin to fire, alerting any other nearby guards, and giving chase, usually for half of the map. In many cases, they will run to hit the alarm, which will effectively end the mission because every guard in the area will be alerted to you (often well over 20-30 people), and quickly open fire if they spot you as well as give chase, often killing you very quickly if there are any sharpshooters in the area, even faster if you are headshot. Oh, and don't try hiding: they'll stay on full alert, just waiting for the chance to find you.
  • Notably averted by the 2009 Ghostbusters game. Even when the PKE meter shows nothing, the Ghostbusters never assume that It's Probably Nothing. They always investigate. Of course, blowing up the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man for the second time early in the game probably has them on their toes for the rest.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in Gears of War, where Dom does not brush off the strange sound so easily. He's right.
    Dome: Yeah right, when was the last time the wind said hostiles!, to you?
  • Usually averted in Fallout 3. If hostile guards hear you, they investigate, and raise the alarm if they see you. If you're well hidden, though, the other guards will berate the first for crying wolf.
  • The Phantoms in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass: Once Link enters a safe-zone, he becomes invisible to them. No matter how clearly in their sight he was before that and how long they've been chasing him before he escaped, afterwards, after looking around for barely two seconds in a "Where'd he go?" fashion, they apparently dismiss it as "It was probably nothing" and turn around to start patrolling their regular route again, without even considering to keep an eye on the spot where he disappeared.
    • Justified in that they're magical constructs with probably rather limited intelligence. Similar to babies the Phantoms likely lack object permanence, so once Link is invisible they cease to recognise his existence.
  • The military in Prototype. There's a shape-shifter on the loose with extraordinary powers. Your commanding officer just ran straight up a building, and then started gliding through the air. If your response is "He may be around here", congratulations, you're apparently qualified for the military.
    • Oh, but it's far worse than that. Entering said building, said officer develops a nasty habit of sneaking up on people, following them behind boxes (out from behind which only one person leaves, and it's not an officer) and moving said boxes and cars. Probably for privacy. Not only that, but after said officer enters the building, you can guarantee that shape-shifter is inside as well. After all, surely a "legit" soldier pointing his finger at a not-so-legit soldier and claiming that This is the creep! cannot be wrong...
      • By this point the entire building is almost empty. Oddly enough, this one guy keeps walking around and sneaking up behind people, kinda like that officer... Nah, it's just my imaginati-CRUNCH. Nom-nom-nom.
      • Letting him sneak around is probably more cost effective. Just let him take what he wants or he'll kill everyone and then take it.
  • The Great Escape plays this to the point of ridiculousness. Having charged through a door and straight into the arms of a patroling German soldier, you dash straight into another room leaving the poor sod gawping after you. His words?
    "Must have been ze vind."
  • Touhou character Koishi Komeiji, as a satori with the power to read the conscious mind and heart of others. She disabled herself in order to escape the contempt she and her sister earned only to find that she suddenly gained powers over the subconscious mind that effectively made her impossible to recognize or notice. On the off chance that anyone does see her, they will immediately forget about her once she leaves. Her power doesn't work on children, though, and she'll sometimes play with them, making her a Not-So-Imaginary Friend until they grow up and forget she existed in the first place.
    • This power is also used in a strange way by the oni Suika, whose ability of "gathering" lets her divide herself into mini-Suikas so small they are a functional mist, and give suggestions to others as subtle mind control to form gatherings (as well as send out mini-Suikas that steal food and alcohol for her gatherings). Almost nobody could figure out why they kept meeting, and dismissed the idea as simple whims of many people to do the same thing at once, although a few had the ability to recognize the mist for what sort of thing it was, if not the perpetrator or her motives.
  • Subverted in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn when the hero is hiding with her pet bird in a hole. The bird chirps and the guard notice. She lets the bird go as they are about to investigate and it flies out of the hole. The guards shrug, saying it was just a bird and our hero sighs a sigh of relief. Then the guards capture her and go "you didn't think we'd really fall for that, did you?" Of course, another hero shows up to save our first hero.
  • Taken to the point of utter farce in Tales of Symphonia.
    • Repeated quite ridiculously in a later game of the series, Tales of the Abyss. Jade(by far the worst offender), Tear, Guy, Ion and even Luke himself all gasp or draw attention to themselves only to say "No, it's nothing." It's *always* something. Always.
    • Here are some things in Abyss that are considered "nothing": Luke being a replica. Ion also being a replica. Largo being Natalia's father. Guy's desire to assassinate the fon Fabre family, including Luke. ("What do you have to live for?" "Revenge." "What?" "Just kidding!") Anise betraying the party and causing Ion's death. Jade realizing that the only way to stop the miasma is to sacrifice either Luke or Asch. Luke having a very limited time left to live after destroying the miasma. And...whatever Jade did to Dist in this scene.
  • Subverted in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood. Ezio had been told earlier that the men of Monteriggioni would be practising with the cannons at dawn, so his first thought when he hears cannon fire is that it is a training exercise. Then a cannonball goes through his room.
    • A version of this can also be seen throughout the game with the guards as long as you're not in a restricted area or actually on the roof/in sight of a roof guard.
    Guard (seeing Ezio hanging on a wall): What is he doing? Bah! I can't be bothered with this now!
    Seconds later, after the patrol passes, the nearby target gets two hidden blades in the chest
  • In World of Warcraft, when your character is bitten by a Worgen, you dismiss it as just a scratch and nothing to be worried about. The end result of this is being taken by the transformation during a last stand, killing the allies unfortunate enough to not also be infected, and causing your final defenses to fall.
    • When you first get the bite, the debuff even says something along the lines of "It's probably nothing". If you check back on that debuff every so often, you'll see that the bite is slowly getting worse....
  • Referenced to in Mirror's Edge. During one of the vent sequences you can hear someone complaining about rats infesting the ventilation system.
    • Justified, as one Easter Egg involves triggering a rat as big as a truck to run down a street. Something like that would HAVE to make some noise.
  • In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, your partner says something while you're listening to Grubba while in the air vent. He gets suspicious and you have a choice of sounds to make in an attempt to fool him.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, there is an optional sequence in which you follow Mila as she goes to rob Zunari's safe. It is possible to get her attention and still be all right... if you are still hidden and make a cat noise.
    • Earlier, the first time through the Forsaken Fortress, there are places where you can move about, as long as you're in a barrel. (If you're seen by a Moblin or shone on by a light, or if your barrel is seen moving, you're thrown in a cell, even if you could have run away.) However, the Moblins have no particular sense that there's something wrong when a barrel was over there, but now it's over here, and there's no one around who could have moved it...

    Web Originals/Web comics 
  • Addressed in the Evil Overlord List.
    Rule #67: No matter how many shorts we have in the system, my guards will be instructed to treat every surveillance camera malfunction as a full-scale emergency.
  • Agent Wyoming's introduction in Red vs. Blue is full of this trope:
    "What was that? ...Probably just the wind. Stupid wind: breaking a twig, creeping up behind me, breathing real heavy-like..."
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del: Shows us the problem with this.
  • Happens in a rather surreal way in {{Goblins!}}, when an alternate-universe Minmax falls into a rift in reality and is erased from existence. His friends panic at first, but as he's also erased from their memories, they calm down and reassure themselves that they're both safe and no one fell in.

    Western Animation 
  • Inverted in Code Lyoko, when Jérémie gets an anomalous alert on the computer and instantly thinks, "It's probably bad news."
  • Family Guy: In one gag, Lois and Peter mention in passing the giant squid in the kitchen which they absolutely ''must'' ignore. It promptly swats all the dishware off the table, prompting them to quickly remark "earthquake!" and "uhh, truck passing by".
  • Used, bizarrely, between two SWATbots — who you would think would have no business having separate thoughts — in an episode of the Sonic Sat AM cartoon.
    • Minimum AI necessary for guard units likely to encounter crafty intruders + Possibility of differing age/experience/previous assignments = Difference in thought/processing patterns.
  • Star Wars: Clone Wars plays this one for laughs, with Palpatine dismissing Grievous' clanking footsteps drawing nearer and then suddenly stopping, to the dismay of his Jedi protectors. Of course, the droid general's head appears in the window behind him even as he's delivering the line, hanging upside down on the outside of the building. One gets the impression that the scheming dark lord, who actually wants to be captured, plays the classic part with some glee.
  • Used for a plot point in Ben 10's "Perfect Day": Max says this about the the Omnitrix acting up, but let's just say that he's not as he seems.
  • American Dad!: When Haley tries to sneak in past curfew in "Bush Comes to Dinner":
    Stan: What was that?
    Francine: Probably just a loud noise.
  • In Scared Shrekless, Donkey appears to hear the voice of Lord Farquaad's ghost.
    Donkey: It's just the wind.
    Voice: Donkey...
    Donkey: And apparently, it knows my name.
    • It turned out to be Fiona and the kids playing a prank.
  • In Looney Tunes, when Bugs Bunny knocks on the floorboards of the house that's been built over his hole, Yosemite Sam first attributes it to mice before returning to his singing.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television — because, let's face it, when you hear a crack of a stick in the woods, the first thought that goes through your head is: "What's that?" and then when you look around and don't see a monstrous man-eating lady-killing psychotic freak of the beyond, you really don't try to linger on what kind of unspeakable horrors might be sneaking up on you right no... eh... AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRCH!
    • The sounds made in your house at night comes from the fact that the house is actually shrinking a little bit due to how it's colder at night than at day — like how the best way to open a resilient jar is to run the lid under some hot water, causing it to expand and be easier to open.
    • Also some spooky sounds from the kitchen or street in the middle of the night — it's very probably only a falling towel or a bird respectively; but in a horror movie you'd think "Why the hell doesn't he get the hell out of there!!??"
    • That creepy tapping sound you hear at night is almost certainly a particular type of harmless beetle with the oh-so-reassuring name of the Deathwatch Beetle.
    • This is even worse when you are on a ship, which is basically a very large building made primarily from metal, which expands and contracts much more than does the wood that houses are typically made from. As you try to go to sleep at night, the entire ship is groaning and creaking and making weird sounds as the many metal parts contract and pull against each other.
      • Not to mention just sounds in a place you are unfamiliar with. To someone who hasn't gotten entirely bored with the novelty of air travel, a jet liner is incredibly noisy, what with the hums and the whines and the buzzes and the clanks and thumps and beeping sounds on the intercom. The sound of flaps lowering before landing can be particularly unsettling, combined with the plane banking and turning as it lines up its approach with a narrow concrete strip at several hundred knots. Not to mention the very unsettling sound you hear when the plane gets close enough to the ground for you to hear the sound of the engines echoing off the surface.
      • It would actually be more worrisome if, when trying to sleep on a plane, there was suddenly no sound at all.
      • Just watch the flight attendants. If they don't look nervous, everything is probably fine, no matter what noises you just heard or how badly the plane is shaking.
      • Anyone who has spent any time working, rather than traveling as a passenger, on a ship will attest to the fact that sudden silence will snap you wide awake in a second, as it indicates that the ship has suffered, at best, an electrical failure, and the possibilities get worse from there.
    • Justified after many long hours guarding; 90% of the time, it is nothing, another 9.99% it's nothing that can't be dealt with just be showing up and providing a security presence. If you can see a plausible source for a noise you heard, or it didn't sound significant enough to search for it, of course you'd write it off to watch for something more substantial.
    • The moral of the story: if you don't hear any usual noises often confused as unusual, you should probably be concerned.
  • Averted by real life security personnel, who ideally will treat all alarms as real. Having a large number of false alarms can cause major problems.
  • Radar spotted the Japanese planes heading in to attack Pearl Harbor, but it was a new technology and the radar station was still in training mode and wasn't fully operational yet. The person the radar operators tried to warn decided what was actually a huge armada of incoming planes must be a handful of American B-17s scheduled to arrive that day, and the radar operators themselves didn't know enough about their own equipment to be able to say "Sir, that's ridiculous!"
  • Michael Shermer discusses in his 2010 TED lecture why humans are prone to suspecting any odd event as extraordinary, dangerous and intentional, hence dismissal of them as mundane is the exception, due to deconditioning. He also explains why Skepticism Failure is often the norm in reality, not the exception.
  • Any pet owner could easily blame a noise on the cat/dog knocking something over. Even the rustling of a gerbil could be taken for granted.
  • There are many people who invoke this by leaving their TVs or music sets on in the background, even when they go to sleep, so that they can be reassured of the movements and sounds instead of freaking out and jumping at shadows.
  • Played thankfully straight several times by both Soviet and Western radar operators during the Cold War. Several times the computers malfunctioned and detected massive nuclear attacks from the enemy. Every time the operators (correctly) dismissed this as a bug.
  • Babies. Because they're still low on memory, for the first few months you can get their attention with a toy then cover it up so that they'll wonder where it went until forgetting about it. But that changes, eventually.
  • The people manning the Chernobyl power plant did this twice. First they ignored the obvious pieces of reactor fuel lying around and thought the explosion hadn't blown everything the hell up, then after several dosimeters were pegged at maximum and they brought in one that actually had the proper range, it read so high that they assumed it must be defective. It wasn't.
  • Car alarms. When you hear one go off, is your first thought "My God, a car is being stolen! I must inform the authorities!" or is it "Some idiot doesn't know how to use their car remote"?


Insecurity CameraInsecurity SystemLaser Hallway
It Seemed TrivialIgnored IndexJedi Mind Trick
Infraction DistractionEscape TropesLand in the Saddle
It's the Journey That CountsNarrative DevicesIt Was a Gift
Critical MissImageSource/Web ComicsCrunchy Bunches

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