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Attention is the most essential mental resource for any organism. It determines which aspects of the environment we deal with, and most of the time, various automatic, subconscious processes make the correct choice about what gets passed through to our conscious awareness.
For this to happen, millions of neurons are constantly monitoring the environment to select the most important things for us to focus on. These neurons are collectively the attentional filter. They work largely in the background, outside of our conscious awareness.
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In 1976, the average supermarket stocked 9,000 unique products; today that number has ballooned to 40,000 of them, yet the average person gets 80%– 85% of their needs in only 150 different supermarket items. That means that we need to ignore 39,850 items in the store.
This comes wi...
If you’re driving, a billboard for your favourite music group might catch your eye (really, we should say catch your mind) while other billboards go ignored. If you’re in a crowded room, at a party, for instance, certain words to which you attach high importance might suddenly catch your attentio...
The brain’s change detector is at work all the time, whether you know it or not.
If a close friend or relative calls on the phone, you might detect that her voice sounds different and ask if she’s congested or sick with the flu. When your brain detects the change, this...
The attentional filter is one of evolution’s greatest achievements.
In nonhumans, it ensures that they don’t get distracted by irrelevancies.
The processing capacity of the conscious mind has been estimated at 120 bits per second. That bandwidth, or window, is the speed limit for the traffic of information we can pay conscious attention to at any one time. While a great deal occurs below the threshold of our awareness, and this has an ...
iPhones and iPads, email, and Twitter are the new revolutions.
Each was decried as an addiction, an unnecessary distraction, a sign of weak character, feeding an inability to engage with real people and the real-time exchange of ideas.
Our brains have collect...
The industrial revolution brought along a rapid rise in discovery and advancement. Scientific information increased at a staggering clip.
Today, someone with a PhD in biology can’t even know all that is known about the nervous system of the squid! Google Scholar reports 30,000 research ...
Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult ...
Most of the perceptual remains of our daily lives don’t register.
When you’ve been driving on the freeway for several hours at a stretch, you don’t remember much of the scenery that has whizzed by: Your attentional system “protects” you from registering it because it is...
Our world has exploded. Information is abundant. We have a limited number of decisions. After all, there are only so many we can make in a day without compromising quality. Once we’ve hit that limit it doesn’t matter how important they are.
The decision-making network in our brain d...
Satisficing is one of the foundations of productive human behaviour; it prevails when we don’t waste time on decisions that don’t matter, or more accurately when we don’t waste time trying to find improvements that are not going to make a significant difference in our happiness or satisfaction.
Attention is created by networks of neurons in the prefrontal cortex (just behind your forehead) that are sensitive only to dopamine. When dopamine is released, it unlocks them, like a key in your front door, and they start firing tiny electrical impulses that stimulate other neurons in their net...
The human brain has evolved to hide from us those things we are not paying attention to. In other words, we often have a cognitive blind spot: We don’t know what we’re missing because our brain can completely ignore things that are not its priority at the moment— even if they are right in front o...
Successful people— or people who can afford it— employ layers of people whose job is to narrow the attentional filter. That is, corporate heads, political leaders, spoiled movie stars, and others whose time and attention are especially valuable have a staff of people around them who are effective...
In order to understand one person speaking to us, we need to process 60 bits of information per second. With a processing limit of 120 bits per second, this means you can barely understand two people talking to you at the same time. Under most circumstances, you will not be able to understand thr...
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