Selective Attention & Its Dangers !


We all notice that when we decide to buy (or after we buy) a particular brand of car, we start noticing several cars of the same brand/model on the road, higher than what we used to see earlier!

We come across more number of TV advertisements in the newspapers, hoardings and TV if we’re looking for replacing our old TV!

What happens?

Whether the number of cars (of the model of our interest) suddenly increase on the road?

Whether TV manufacturers somehow come to know about our interest in a new TV and start publishing more advertisements?

We know nothing of that sort happens, those cars were already there on the road, those advertisements were regularly appearing, but we were not paying attention.

This phenomenon is known as selective attention.

Selective Attention refers to a very common state of every living species – it means that we tend to see what we want to see.

Falling in love can be an accurate example of the selective attention – a person sees only certain specific positive qualities in other human being and falls in love but at the same time fails to notice other traits which might be important for a happy relationship in the long run.

One happens to see everything from a positive mind-frame in the person one loves whereas it just works opposite in the case of a person one does not like much.

Animals are also prone to this and get caught by baits while ignoring the dangers around the bait.

Why Does It Happen?

Attention is a limited resource, there’s only limited capacity available, so selective attention allows us to focus on what matters at a particular moment.

Our evolution makes sure that our limited attention capacity is directed and focused on those things which arouse our interest at that particular juncture.

In audiology, it is also known as a cocktail party effect. It refers to the ability to focus one’s attention a particular stimulus (voice of your colleague or whosoever is standing near you ) while filtering out a range of other stimuli (i.e. noise).

It also happens to us in magic shows where we only see what the magician wants to show us.

Many court cases are won despite the presence of strong evidence against the accused because the witnesses are unable to recall everything from the scene.

One can experience his own selective attention bias by clicking here.


Dangers with Selective Attention :

Due to selective attention, we happen to ignore certain other elements in the scene which may be important for better decision making.

It can happen when we interview someone for hiring, when we purchase something or when we do data analysis to reach a decision etc. Many times we focus more on one or two key traits too much and use all our attention-capacity to judge people/things/events on those selective aspects while ignoring other important cues which may be very obvious and important.

“We say “seeing is believing,” but actually we are all much better at believing than at seeing . In fact, we are seeing what we believe nearly all the time and only occasionally seeing what we can’t believe.” ~Robert Anton Wilson

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