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How Attention Works


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This presentation reviews how attention works in our brains. It answers questions like:
1) How do we process our environment?
2) What is the path that stimuli go through?
3) What are the factors that capture our attention?
4) What about stimuli that we don’t consciously process?
5) And more...

This is my second presentation from the SAMRA 2011 conference. The first presentation on "gamification" can be found here:

Published in: Education, Technology, Business

How Attention Works

  1. 1. How Attention Works<br /><br />Senior R&D Executive<br />TNS Global Brand Equity Centre<br />
  2. 2. 1<br />How do we process our environment?<br />2<br />3<br />What is the path that stimuli go through?<br />What are the factors that capture our attention?<br />4<br />What about stimuli that we don’t consciously process?<br />Contents<br />
  3. 3. What do we notice?<br />
  4. 4. Business<br />Life<br />Do people see my sponsorship ads during a rugby game?<br />Why is talking on a mobile phone while driving a bad idea?<br />Why do we notice different things in movies, in the news, what people are wearing, etc.<br />Do people notice my billboard on the side of the road?<br />Do people register the brand logo on a piece of clothing?<br />...and why do different people remember different elements of the same information?<br />Do people notice my banner ad on a news website?<br />Just how subjective is the human experience?<br />
  5. 5. Source:<br />Basics of attention: selection (& the moonwalking bear)<br />
  6. 6. Why don’t we see the bear?<br />
  7. 7. ATTENTION<br />EXTERNAL<br />INTERNAL<br />Huge interaction<br />
  8. 8. TOP-DOWN<br />(Goal-directed , endogenous)<br />ATTENTION<br />BOTTOM-UP<br />(Ambient , exogenous)<br />Top-down vs. bottom-up attention<br />
  9. 9. So what is the actual process that stimuli go through?<br />
  10. 10. PRE-CONSCIOUS PROCESSINGSemantic e.g. what is this? <br />Emotional e.g. taboo subjects<br />SHORT-TERM MEMORY<br />Awareness at this point<br />FILTERS<br />STAGE 1<br />STAGE 2<br />The attention process<br />
  11. 11. General capacity: ±4 items (chunks)<br />Visuals<br />1-5 <br />Digits<br />5-9<br />Letters<br />± 6<br />Words<br />± 5<br />Short-term memory capacity<br />
  12. 12. 0860 03 03 03<br />Chunking allows us to treat multiple features as one object, or “chunk”<br />Chunking<br />
  13. 13. Okay, so what captures<br />people’s attention?<br />
  14. 14. Emotionally charged<br />Contrast to surroundings <br />Social cues<br />Cued stimuli<br />Expected rewards<br />Movement<br />Shared features<br />Early encoded features<br />What captures our attention?<br />
  15. 15. Selected based on salience<br />(novelty / surprise)<br />Neuroeconomics<br />The importance of surprise<br />
  16. 16. PRE-CONSCIOUS<br />PROCESSING<br />We can detect <br />±8-10 images per second when flashed before us<br />SHORT-TERM<br />MEMORY<br />But retain far fewer due to short-term memory capacity limitations<br />Temporal attention<br />
  17. 17. The attentional blink<br />
  18. 18. Attentional blink<br />(perception)<br />Stimulus 1<br />< 0.5 secs<br />Stimulus 2<br />Psychological refractory period<br />(response/choice selection)<br />Response 1<br />Response 2<br />0.5 secs<br />……………<br />Task switching<br />Task 1<br />Task 2<br />Switching <br />delay<br />……………<br />Attention processing bottlenecks<br />
  19. 19. Real world example…<br />
  20. 20. Increase in negative emotion (confusion) as <br />speed of cuts increased<br />Source: Millward Brown<br />Attention processing bottlenecks<br />
  21. 21. What about stimuli that we don’t consciously process?<br />
  22. 22. Unconscious, imperceptible<br />Unconscious, perceptible<br />(Conscious, perceptible)<br />Unconscious processing<br />
  23. 23. Subliminal (“sub-limen”)<br />External study, not related to Coca-Cola. Researcher misreported results<br />Effect: Works for 100-200ms after exposure<br />Unconscious, imperceptible<br />
  24. 24. Process 40 items up to semantic level (meaning)<br />What gets activated? Implicit procedures (context sensitive!)<br />Cognitive procedures<br />Emotional/physiological states<br />Spreading activation of related concepts<br />Motor skills<br />Unconscious, perceptible<br />
  25. 25. How long does it last?<br />Several hours<br />Anaesthetized patients<br />Several minutes<br />Advert exposures<br />A day<br />Pictures and dreams<br />Unconscious, perceptible<br />
  26. 26. Task difficulty<br />High<br />Low<br />Unconscious, perceptible: Lavie’s Load Theory<br />
  27. 27. Task difficulty<br />Excess<br />Rugby<br />High<br />Low<br />Unconscious, perceptible: Lavie’s Load Theory<br />
  28. 28. Focus on lion<br />Little excess attention<br />for distractor stimuli<br />Source: Millward Brown<br />Unconscious, perceptible: Lavie’s Load Theory<br />
  29. 29. Focus on landscape<br />More excess attention<br />for distractor stimulus<br />Source: Millward Brown<br />Unconscious, perceptible: Lavie’s Load Theory<br />
  30. 30. Task difficulty < 2 kinds<br />Perceptual load…<br />…limited capacity to process external stimuli <br />Central limitations…<br />…limited internal capacity for maintaining and manipulating items in working memory and similar functions such as task switching<br />≠<br />Load<br />Load<br />Unconscious, perceptible: Lavie’s Load Theory<br />
  31. 31. Can you recall being exposed?<br />Yes<br />Contrast effect<br />No<br />Assimilation effect<br />Source:<br />Unconscious vs. conscious processing<br />
  32. 32. Conclusions<br />
  33. 33. Perceptual filters<br />Limited processing capacity<br />Unconscious processing happens, but…<br />…context sensitive, and… <br />…depends on load<br />Conclusions<br />
  34. 34. Thank you!<br /><br />Senior R&D Executive<br />TNS Global Brand Equity Centre<br />