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I can't understand the comparison made by Kahneman

I can't understand the comparison made by Kahneman


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The chapter "Risk Policies", in Kahneman's "Thinking, Fast and Slow", opens with this example, which makes vivid the pitfalls of relying on our intuitions in choosing between bets:

Imagine that you face the following pair of concurrent decisions. First examine both decisions, then make your choices.

Decision (i): Choose between A. sure gain of $240 B. 25% chance to gain $1,000 and 75% chance to gain nothing Decision (ii): Choose between C. sure loss of $750 D. 75% chance to lose $1,000 and 25% chance to lose nothing

Most people, looking at both concurrently, choose A and D. Now consider this second choice:

AD. 25% chance to win $240 and 75% chance to lose $760 BC. 25% chance to win $250 and 75% chance to lose $750

Clearly, any sane person will choose BC here; it dominates option AD.

However, AD is exactly the combination of options A and D, while BC is the combination of B and C.

But I cant understand how"sure gain of $240"option is transformed to"25% chance to win $240"and why these suggestions are equivalent? Am I missing something?


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Everybody lies, especially to themselves

The subject of his initial research was not sexy and quite distant from the happiness debate. The study documented, in real time, patients’ degree of suffering during a colonoscopy (it was a painful procedure at the time, unlike today).

It turned out there was no connection between the length of the procedure and level of pain a patient experienced and described at the time, and the extent of trauma he recalled afterward. The memory was based primarily on whether the pain increased or decreased toward the end of the procedure. The stronger the pain in the final stage of the procedure, the more traumatic it became in the patient’s memory – with no connection to the question of how much pain he actually experienced during it.

Positive experiences are processed similarly. In a 2010 lecture, Kahneman related the story of a man who told him about listening to a symphony he loved, “absolutely glorious music.” But at the end there was a “dreadful screeching sound” that, the man said, ruined the whole experience for him.

But as Kahneman pointed out, it hadn’t actually destroyed the experience, because the man enjoyed the music at the time. Rather, it ruined his memory of the experience, which is something completely different.

“We live and experience many moments, but most of them are not preserved,” Kahneman said. “They are lost forever. Our memory collects certain parts of what happened to us and processes them into a story. We make most of our decisions based on the story told by our memory.

“For example, a vacation – we don’t remember, or experience, the entire time we spent on vacation, but only the impressions preserved in our memory, the photographs and the documentation. Moreover, we usually choose the next vacation not as an experience but as a future memory. If prior to the decision about our next vacation we assume that at the end all the photos will be erased, and we’ll be given a drug that will also erase our memory, it’s quite possible that we’ll choose a different vacation from the one that we actually choose.”

A very vague concept

Kahneman’s studies of “What I experience” versus “What I remember” are what led him to get involved in the study of happiness.

“I put together a group of researchers, including an economist whom I viewed as both a partner in the group and its principal client,” he told me when we met earlier this year. “We wanted to figure out what factors affect happiness and to try to work to change conditions and policies accordingly. Economists have more influence on policy.

“The group developed a model known as DRM, or Day Reconstruction Method – a fairly successful method of reconstructing experiences throughout the day. It gives results similar to those of ‘What I experience’ and is easier to do.”

It turns out there are significant differences between the narrative that we remember and tell, and the feelings of day-to-day happiness we experience at the time – to the point that Kahneman believes the general term “happiness” is too vague and can’t be applied to both.

He views “happiness” as the feeling of enjoyment a person experiences here and now – for instance, two weeks of relaxation on the beach, or an enjoyable conversation with an interesting person. What is described as happiness in the “What I remember” is something Kahneman prefers to call – as he did more than once in his series of studies – “satisfaction” or “life satisfaction.”

Amir Mandel speaking with Daniel Kahneman, March 2018. What did I consider more important about our meeting? My enjoyment of the meeting or the photo? Moti Milrod

“Life satisfaction is connected to a large degree to social yardsticks – achieving goals, meeting expectations,” he explained. “It’s based on comparisons with other people.

“For instance, with regard to money, life satisfaction rises in direct proportion to how much you have. In contrast, happiness is affected by money only when it’s lacking. Poverty can buy a lot of suffering, but above the level of income that satisfies basic needs, happiness, as I define it, doesn’t increase with wealth. The graph is surprisingly flat.

“Economist Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize laureate for 2015, was also involved in these conclusions. Happiness in this sense depends, to a large extent, on genetics – on a natural ability to be happy. It’s also connected to a genetic disposition to optimism. They are apparently the same genes.

“To the degree that outside factors affect this aspect of happiness,” he continued, “they’re related solely to people: We’re happy in the company of people we like, especially friends – more so than with partners. Children can cause great happiness, at certain moments.”

‘I was miserable’

At about the same time as these studies were being conducted, the Gallup polling company (which has a relationship with Princeton) began surveying various indicators among the global population. Kahneman was appointed as a consultant to the project.

“I suggested including measures of happiness, as I understand it – happiness in real time. To these were added data from Bhutan, a country that measures its citizens’ happiness as an indicator of the government’s success. And gradually, what we know today as Gallup’s World Happiness Report developed. It has also been adopted by the UN and OECD countries, and is published as an annual report on the state of global happiness.

“A third development, which is very important in my view, was a series of lectures I gave at the London School of Economics in which I presented my findings about happiness. The audience included Prof. Richard Layard – a teacher at the school, a British economist and a member of the House of Lords – who was interested in the subject. Eventually, he wrote a book about the factors that influence happiness, which became a hit in Britain,” Kahneman said, referring to “Happiness: Lessons from a New Science.”

“Layard did important work on community issues, on improving mental health services – and his driving motivation was promoting happiness. He instilled the idea of happiness as a factor in the British government’s economic considerations.

“The involvement of economists like Layard and Deaton made this issue more respectable,” Kahneman added with a smile. “Psychologists aren’t listened to so much. But when economists get involved, everything becomes more serious, and research on happiness gradually caught the attention of policy-making organizations.

“At the same time,” said Kahneman, “a movement has also developed in psychology – positive psychology – that focuses on happiness and attributes great importance to internal questions like meaning. I’m less certain of that.

Tourists in New York posing near a homeless man. "In general, if you want to reduce suffering, mental health is a good place to start," says Kahneman. Reuters

“People connect happiness primarily to the company of others. I recall a conversation with Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, in which he tried to convince me I had a meaningful life. I insisted – and I still think this today – that I had an interesting life. ‘Meaningful’ isn’t something I understand. I’m a lucky person and also fairly happy – mainly because, for most of my life, I’ve worked with people whose company I enjoyed.”

Then, referring to his 2011 best-seller “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” he added, “There were four years when I worked alone on a book. That was terrible, and I was miserable.”

Despite Kahneman’s reservations, trends in positive psychology have come to dominate the science of happiness. One of the field’s most prominent representatives is Prof. Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught the most popular course in Harvard’s history (in spring 2006), on happiness and leadership.

Following in his footsteps, lecturers at Yale developed a course on happiness that attracted masses of students and overshadowed every other course offered at the prestigious university.

“In positive psychology, it seems to me they’re trying to convince people to be happy without making any changes in their situation,” said Kahneman, skeptically. “To learn to be happy. That fits well with political conservatism.”

I pointed out to Kahneman that Buddhism – including Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, which whom he is in contact – also places great emphasis on changing a person’s inner spiritual state. “That’s true to a large extent,” he agreed, “but in a different way, in my opinion. Buddhism has a different social worldview.

“But in any case, I confess that I participated in a meeting with the Dalai Lama at MIT, and some of his people were there – including one of his senior people, who lives in Paris and serves as his contact person and translator in France. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from this man. He radiated. He had such inner peace and such a sense of happiness, and I’m absolutely not cynical enough to overlook it.”

Tending to mental health

Kahneman studied happiness for over two decades, gave rousing lectures and, thanks to his status, contributed to putting the issue on the agenda of both countries and organizations, principally the UN and the OECD. Five years ago, though, he abandoned this line of research.

Two French women laughing at a cafe in Paris, April 2017. "We’re happy in the company of people we like, especially friends," says Kahneman. Bloomberg

“I gradually became convinced that people don’t want to be happy,” he explained. “They want to be satisfied with their life.”

A bit stunned, I asked him to repeat that statement. “People don’t want to be happy the way I’ve defined the term – what I experience here and now. In my view, it’s much more important for them to be satisfied, to experience life satisfaction, from the perspective of ‘What I remember,’ of the story they tell about their lives. I furthered the development of tools for understanding and advancing an asset that I think is important but most people aren’t interested in.

“Meanwhile, awareness of happiness has progressed in the world, including annual happiness indexes. It seems to me that on this basis, what can confidently be advanced is a reduction of suffering. The question of whether society should intervene so that people will be happier is very controversial, but whether society should strive for people to suffer less – that’s widely accepted.

“Much of Layard’s activity on behalf of happiness in England related to bolstering the mental health system. In general, if you want to reduce suffering, mental health is a good place to start – because the extent of illness is enormous and the intensity of the distress doesn’t allow for any talk of happiness. We also need to talk about poverty and about improving the workplace environment, where many people are abused.”

My interview with Kahneman took place as I started working on the Haaretz series of articles “The Secret of Happiness,” and was initially meant to conclude it. It was the key to the entire series. It’s interesting that Kahneman, one of the leading symbols of happiness research, eventually became dubious and quit, while proposing that we primarily address causes of suffering.

The “secret of happiness” hasn’t been deciphered. Even the term’s definition remains vague. Genetics and luck play an important role in it.

Nevertheless, a few insights that emerged from the series have stayed with me: I’m amazed by Layard’s activity. I was impressed by the tranquility of the Buddhist worldview and the practices that accompany it. Personally, I’ve chosen to practice meditation with a technique adapted to people from Western cultures.

I learned to collect experiences and not necessarily memories, which can be disputed. I don’t mind sitting for three hours in a Paris café or spending a day wandering through the streets of Berlin, without noting a single monument or having a single incident that I could recount. I gave up on income to do what I enjoy – like, for instance, writing about happiness and music.

Above all, it has become clear that our best hours are spent in the company of people we like. With this resource, it pays to be generous.


Daniel Kahneman: Your happiness depends heavily on your memory

According to Kahneman, a behavioral economist, every individual is divided into an experiencing self and a remembering self. The differences between these two selves are critical to our understanding of human happiness.

To illustrate this idea, Kahneman refers to an experiment in which two groups of patients underwent a colonoscopy. The group that experienced the peak of their pain at the end said they suffered more — even when their procedure was shorter. Kahneman says that the second group's experiencing selves suffered less, but their remembering selves suffered more.

The remembering self, Kahneman says, is the one that makes decisions, like which colonoscopy surgeon to choose the next time around. "We actually don't choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences." Even when we contemplate the future, Kahneman says, "we think of our future as anticipated memories."

Bottom line: What makes you happy in the immediate present won't necessarily make you happy when you reflect on your life overall — and it's important to consider that idea the next time you're making a big decision.


Psychology and hybrid working

Similar studies had shown decision-making to be similarly random in other spheres, said Kahneman. Physicians tended to give different kinds of decisions when presented with the same symptoms at different times of day, with more antibiotics being prescribed in the afternoon. Temperature also affected decision-making with judges passing more severe sentences on hot days. He described this variability, or noise, as “unacceptable” and something businesses needed to tackle as they reset after lockdown. Like bias, it led to unnecessary errors.

One of the reasons why noise was so prevalent in organisations was because the amount of agreement in meetings was “much too high” because of the pressure for conformity from the leader or the person who speaks first or most confidently. As a result, decisions in meetings often did not “reflect the true diversity of opinion around the table”. Instead, people should be invited to share their own judgments prior to meetings “so people are aware of the amount of noise that they must bridge to reach a consensual decision”.

Recruitment was “really troubled” by noise, said Kahneman. A single person making decisions about candidates was usually convinced they were making the right decision, because they were unaware of noise, he said. When you have multiple people making the hiring decision it was vital to have independence. Independence was key if you wanted to gauge authentic judgments and opinions free of external influences. Both noise (variable error) and bias (an average bias) contributed equally to inaccurate decisions, he added.

Algorithms and simple rules were noise free, said the professor. If they were unbiased, using algorithms would improve decision-making, he said. “When algorithms are biased it is somebody’s fault …the person who made them. But they should be noise-free. Algorthmic bias is attracting a lot of attention but people in many ways were even more biased. People are both biased and noisy,” he told the programme.

We’ve fooled ourselves that business is all about numbers, balance sheets and data sets” – Gillian Tett, FT journalist

Listening to Kahneman was Ann Cairns, executive vice chair of Mastercard. She said that “noise” had led to far too few women being appointed to senior positions. Simply by maintaining independence from the hiring decision-making process and asking HR managers why so few women were being recruited or promoted and requesting that they reflect on their own thought processes she was able to reflect positive change.

Author of new book Anthro Vision and US managing editor of the FT Gillian Tett was also involved in the discussion. She described the return to the office as “an extraordinary opportunity to rethink our assumptions and notice things we never noticed before”. Citing the Chinese proverb “fish can’t see water”, Tett told BBC Radio 4 today that anthropology offered methods of improving decision-making and of avoiding the mistakes of the past. “Lockdown has shaken up everything,” she said, adding that office workers would “feel like Martians landing on Earth for the first time. “Look around you and try to see the things that you didn’t used to talk about,” she said.

A trained anthropologist herself, Tett explained how attending a financiers’ conference in France 15 years ago was analogous to attending a wedding ritual among tribal peoples in Tajikstan. She said: “You have a tribe of bankers using rituals and symbols to reinforce their world view and their social networks. The problem comes when the unstated assumptions take over and prevent people from seeing what’s hidden in plain sight.”

The “problem” in this case was the global financial crash of 2008, which Tett was one of few to correctly predict.

“Anthropology makes the familiar look strange and the unfamiliar look familiar,” she said. She noted how Kit Kat sales in Japan had surged for reasons unknown to manufacturer Nestlé. It transpired that students were using Kit Kats as a good luck symbol in exams. “People were interpreting Kit Kats in different ways.” Such findings had led to organisations now using anthropologists to analyse themselves and global markets.

Tett said that as people returned to offices it would be wise for leaders to reflect on the nature of meetings. Some people thought meetings were called merely to rubber stamp decisions, she said, others thought they were for forming a consensus. At General Motors an anthropologist was brought in to find out why teams were not agreeing on progress about a new car design. “It was because the three groups involved each had a different view of what meetings were for,” she said.

“We’ve fooled ourselves that business is all about numbers, balance sheets and data sets,” Tett added. “We ignore what the word ‘company means’. We all assume ourselves as rational with individual agency and linear thoughts. But our choices are affected by the people are around us and a much wider context that we don’t always see. Fish can’t see water.” She warned that as people became re-immersed in the company culture back in the office that wider context which may have appeared more visible during lockdown would be ignored.


Forensic psychology in the dock

This book is clearly intended to be provocative and accessible to a wide readership. The title and style suggest an attempt to be seen in the tradition of publications such as Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science (2008, Fourth Estate). Its central argument is that forensic psychology (prisons and the Parole Board, at any rate) is dominated by procedures for assessing and reducing risk of reoffending that have little or no empirical foundation. It is further argued that the whole enterprise is driven by political and organisational imperatives and maintained by the fallibility of human judgement, inadequate training and defensiveness. Alleged consequences include wasting taxpayers’ money on a grand scale and the injustice of unnecessarily prolonged incarceration. It is recommended that psychologists should not muddy the waters of reliability and validity by the exercise of personal judgement and there should be no straying from procedures supported by rigorous evaluation. One implication is that cognitive-behavioural programmes for addressing complex offence-related behaviour should be abandoned.

Numerous personal anecdotes lean rather heavily on the trope of the voice of reason standing against bureaucracy and vested interests. Resentful reviewers may be tempted to reciprocate by drawing parallels with Robert Martinson (1974), who damaged the field of rehabilitation before publishing a retraction, or even with the author’s near namesake who shot the outlaw Jesse James in the back I mention these so they don’t have to. Examining where the author may have succumbed to the very heuristics and biases that he criticises in others could be a more productive venture. I hope none of this distracts from the better justified points concerning shortcomings in vision and implementation within the field over the last couple of decades and the Kafkaesque logic that has sometimes attended them. Ultimately, though, I found this book to be disappointing in several respects.

Initially I was intrigued by the author’s conversational style and uncompromising approach towards a questionable orthodoxy that in many ways has been both limited and limiting. To clarify my own direction of travel, I am amongst those who have questioned (e.g. Needs, 2016 Needs & Adair-Stantiall, 2018). As I read on, I became increasingly uneasy at the lack of coverage of existing critiques (there have been many) and this mounted as it became apparent that limited acknowledgement of prior work extends to other key areas (such as the relevance of heuristics and biases). However, it was when I reached the sweeping assertions regarding interventions that I was particularly dismayed by the less than comprehensive use of evidence. I have never been a conventional advocate or apologist for what the author terms the ‘offending behaviour industry’ and to say that the area has a chequered history is an understatement. Nonetheless, we owe it to the reader and the future development of the field to be as accurate and fair as possible. There really is no space to debate this here, but the interested reader could do worse than start with the recent ‘review of reviews’ by Weisburd et al. (2017) and work backwards.

Such considerations caused me to wonder again about the nature of the intended readership. The style is not that of an academic publication but the overuse in places of footnotes sits rather uneasily with a popular work. Also, being a non-specialist is unlikely to confer immunity from the cumulative effects of repetition and occasional sentences that reminded me of the editorials of certain non-broadsheet newspapers. I would not expect everyone to share my frustration at processes involved in life events being reduced to regression to the mean, or developments in improving custodial environments by social means being ignored in favour of token economies and proposals for something that sounds rather like the existing Incentives and Earned Privileges system. Even a prisoner not averse to endorsing a publication that purports to discredit an influential part of the system that holds sway over his life might be confused at this point. In fact I found the pages on future directions the most disappointing of all.

In terms of the evolution of the field the author’s failure to represent important aspects of past, current, emerging or potential practice and associated research could do more harm than the criticisms around which the book is based. If forensic psychology needs to ‘return’ to science, I would urge that there needs to be a debate within forensic psychology about how science is understood and practised. For example, it has been suggested that neglect of context and process can make even randomised controlled trials ‘effectively useless’ (Byrne, 2013). Similarly, failure to think in terms of the dynamics of systems at every level can hamstring the ability of psychologists to engage with them in a productive manner.

If we attempt to locate science precisely where Dr Forde says we left it, we might find that it has moved on.

- Reviewed by Dr Adrian Needs, Principal Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth and Registered Forensic Psychologist


Exploiting a reasonable practice (or, the tragedy of the epistemic commons)

More than ever, we have no choice but to believe many things on the basis of (expert) testimony. We typically accept testimony from others, all else equal. Especially when peripheral cues give the green light.

However, as we just saw, it’s also easier than ever to abuse the current conditions and mine vulnerabilities of the many-media, many-experts world to sneak past our defenses.

People who put on the garb of experts and abuse our trust exploit gaps in otherwise reasonable norms of information processing.

They operate as a kind of social parasite on our unavoidable vulnerability, taking advantage of our epistemic condition and social dependency.


The consequences of distinction bias

Not being aware of the distinction bias can lead us to make very bad decisions in life. It can make us believe, for example, that we will be happier if we buy a 400 square feet house than a 200 square feet house.

The problem is that when we analyze two options simultaneously, we look for a common factor that serves as a standard for comparison. The distinction bias appears when we take into account a single variable and this is not even that important for later experience.

Imagine, for example, that we must choose between a monotonous job in which we will earn 80,000 $ a year or a more challenging position in which we will earn 60,000 $. With an eye on our happiness, we can focus on analyzing all the things that we could buy with those 20,000 $ more and that would make us happier.

However, we overlook the fact that spending 8 hours each day in a monotonous job could create such boredom and frustration that it is not offset by the little happiness that the extra money can bring.

The distinction bias also sets us another trap: it leads us to always want more. But that, far from being rewarding or making us happy, can generate more stress.

If we believe that we will be happier in a larger house, with a higher quality television or a more modern mobile, we will have to work harder to achieve it, which could lead us to sacrifice our happiness in the here and now, in pursuit of an option that really it is neither more satisfying nor more rewarding.


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Special Considerations

According to Tversky and Kahneman, the certainty effect is exhibited when people prefer certain outcomes and underweight outcomes that are only probable. The certainty effect leads to individuals avoiding risk when there is a prospect of a sure gain. It also contributes to individuals seeking risk when one of their options is a sure loss.

The isolation effect occurs when people have presented two options with the same outcome, but different routes to the outcome. In this case, people are likely to cancel out similar information to lighten the cognitive load, and their conclusions will vary depending on how the options are framed.


Contents

Prior to the founding of psychology as a scientific discipline, attention was studied in the field of philosophy. Thus, many of the discoveries in the field of attention were made by philosophers. Psychologist John B. Watson calls Juan Luis Vives the father of modern psychology because, in his book De Anima et Vita (The Soul and Life), he was the first to recognize the importance of empirical investigation. [7] In his work on memory, Vives found that the more closely one attends to stimuli, the better they will be retained.

By the 1990s, psychologists began using positron emission tomography (PET) and later functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to image the brain while monitoring tasks involving attention. Considering this expensive equipment was generally only available in hospitals, psychologists sought cooperation with neurologists. Psychologist Michael Posner (then already renowned for his influential work on visual selective attention) and neurologist Marcus Raichle pioneered brain imaging studies of selective attention. [8] Their results soon sparked interest from the neuroscience community, which until then had simply been focused on monkey brains. With the development of these technological innovations, neuroscientists became interested in this type of research that combines sophisticated experimental paradigms from cognitive psychology with these new brain imaging techniques. Although the older technique of electroencephalography (EEG) had long been used to study the brain activity underlying selective attention by cognitive psychophysiologists, the ability of the newer techniques to actually measure precisely localized activity inside the brain generated renewed interest by a wider community of researchers. A growing body of such neuroimaging research has identified a frontoparietal attention network which appears to be responsible for control of attention. [9]

In cognitive psychology there are at least two models which describe how visual attention operates. These models may be considered metaphors which are used to describe internal processes and to generate hypotheses that are falsifiable. Generally speaking, visual attention is thought to operate as a two-stage process. [10] In the first stage, attention is distributed uniformly over the external visual scene and processing of information is performed in parallel. In the second stage, attention is concentrated to a specific area of the visual scene (i.e., it is focused), and processing is performed in a serial fashion.

The first of these models to appear in the literature is the spotlight model. The term "spotlight" was inspired by the work of William James, who described attention as having a focus, a margin, and a fringe. [11] The focus is an area that extracts information from the visual scene with a high-resolution, the geometric center of which being where visual attention is directed. Surrounding the focus is the fringe of attention, which extracts information in a much more crude fashion (i.e., low-resolution). This fringe extends out to a specified area, and the cut-off is called the margin.

The second model is called the zoom-lens model and was first introduced in 1986. [12] This model inherits all properties of the spotlight model (i.e., the focus, the fringe, and the margin), but it has the added property of changing in size. This size-change mechanism was inspired by the zoom lens one might find on a camera, and any change in size can be described by a trade-off in the efficiency of processing. [13] The zoom-lens of attention can be described in terms of an inverse trade-off between the size of focus and the efficiency of processing: because attention resources are assumed to be fixed, then it follows that the larger the focus is, the slower processing will be of that region of the visual scene, since this fixed resource will be distributed over a larger area. It is thought that the focus of attention can subtend a minimum of 1° of visual angle, [11] [14] however the maximum size has not yet been determined.

A significant debate emerged in the last decade of the 20th century in which Treisman's 1993 Feature Integration Theory (FIT) was compared to Duncan and Humphrey's 1989 attentional engagement theory (AET). [15] : 5–7 FIT posits that "objects are retrieved from scenes by means of selective spatial attention that picks out objects' features, forms feature maps, and integrates those features that are found at the same location into forming objects." Treismans's theory is based on a two-stage process to help solve the binding problem of attention. These two stages are the preattentive stage and the focused attention stage.

  1. Preattentive Stage: The unconscious detection and separation of features of an item (color, shape, size). Treisman suggests that this happens early in cognitive processing and that individuals are not aware of the occurrence due to the counter intuitiveness of separating a whole into its part. Evidence shows that preattentive focuses are accurate due to illusory conjunctions. [16]
  2. Focused Attention Stage: The combining of all feature identifiers to perceive all parts as one whole. This is possible through prior knowledge and cognitive mapping. When an item is seen within a known location and has features that people have knowledge of, then prior knowledge will help bring features all together to make sense of what is perceived. The case of R.M's damage to his parietal lobe, also known as Balint's syndrome, shows the incorporation of focused attention and combination of features in the role of attention. [17]

Through sequencing these steps, parallel and serial search is better exhibited through the formation of conjunctions of objects. Conjunctive searches, according to Treismans, are done through both stages [18] in order to create selective and focused attention on an object, though Duncan and Humphrey would disagree. Duncan and Humphrey's AET understanding of attention maintained that "there is an initial pre-attentive parallel phase of perceptual segmentation and analysis that encompasses all of the visual items present in a scene. At this phase, descriptions of the objects in a visual scene are generated into structural units the outcome of this parallel phase is a multiple-spatial-scale structured representation. Selective attention intervenes after this stage to select information that will be entered into visual short-term memory." [15] : 5–7 The contrast of the two theories placed a new emphasis on the separation of visual attention tasks alone and those mediated by supplementary cognitive processes. As Rastophopoulos summarizes the debate: "Against Treisman's FIT, which posits spatial attention as a necessary condition for detection of objects, Humphreys argues that visual elements are encoded and bound together in an initial parallel phase without focal attention, and that attention serves to select among the objects that result from this initial grouping." [15] : 8

In the twentieth century, the pioneering research of Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria led to the three-part model of neuropsychology defining the working brain as being represented by three co-active processes listed as Attention, Memory, and Activation. A.R. Luria published his well-known book The Working Brain in 1973 as a concise adjunct volume to his previous 1962 book Higher Cortical Functions in Man. In this volume, Luria summarized his three-part global theory of the working brain as being composed of three constantly co-active processes which he described as the (1) Attention system, (2) Mnestic (memory) system, and (3) Cortical activation system. The two books together are considered by Homskaya's account as "among Luria's major works in neuropsychology, most fully reflecting all the aspects (theoretical, clinical, experimental) of this new discipline." [19] The product of the combined research of Vygotsky and Luria have determined a large part of the contemporary understanding and definition of attention as it is understood at the start of the 21st-century.

Multitasking can be defined as the attempt to perform two or more tasks simultaneously however, research shows that when multitasking, people make more mistakes or perform their tasks more slowly. [20] Attention must be divided among all of the component tasks to perform them. In divided attention, individuals attend or give attention to multiple sources of information at once or perform more than one task at the same time. [21]

Older research involved looking at the limits of people performing simultaneous tasks like reading stories, while listening and writing something else, [22] or listening to two separate messages through different ears (i.e., dichotic listening). Generally, classical research into attention investigated the ability of people to learn new information when there were multiple tasks to be performed, or to probe the limits of our perception (c.f. Donald Broadbent). There is also older literature on people's performance on multiple tasks performed simultaneously, such as driving a car while tuning a radio [23] or driving while being on the phone. [24]

The vast majority of current research on human multitasking is based on performance of doing two tasks simultaneously, [20] usually that involves driving while performing another task, such as texting, eating, or even speaking to passengers in the vehicle, or with a friend over a cellphone. This research reveals that the human attentional system has limits for what it can process: driving performance is worse while engaged in other tasks drivers make more mistakes, brake harder and later, get into more accidents, veer into other lanes, and/or are less aware of their surroundings when engaged in the previously discussed tasks. [25] [26] [27]

There has been little difference found between speaking on a hands-free cell phone or a hand-held cell phone, [5] [28] which suggests that it is the strain of attentional system that causes problems, rather than what the driver is doing with his or her hands. While speaking with a passenger is as cognitively demanding as speaking with a friend over the phone, [29] passengers are able to change the conversation based upon the needs of the driver. For example, if traffic intensifies, a passenger may stop talking to allow the driver to navigate the increasingly difficult roadway a conversation partner over a phone would not be aware of the change in environment.

There have been multiple theories regarding divided attention. One, conceived by Kahneman, [30] explains that there is a single pool of attentional resources that can be freely divided among multiple tasks. This model seems oversimplified, however, due to the different modalities (e.g., visual, auditory, verbal) that are perceived. [31] When the two simultaneous tasks use the same modality, such as listening to a radio station and writing a paper, it is much more difficult to concentrate on both because the tasks are likely to interfere with each other. The specific modality model was theorized by Navon and Gopher in 1979. However, more recent research using well controlled dual-task paradigms points at the importance of tasks. [32]

As an alternative, resource theory has been proposed as a more accurate metaphor for explaining divided attention on complex tasks. Resource theory states that as each complex task is automatized, performing that task requires less of the individual's limited-capacity attentional resources. [31] Other variables play a part in our ability to pay attention to and concentrate on many tasks at once. These include, but are not limited to, anxiety, arousal, task difficulty, and skills. [31]

Simultaneous attention is a type of attention, classified by attending to multiple events at the same time. Simultaneous attention is demonstrated by children in Indigenous communities, who learn through this type of attention to their surroundings. [33] Simultaneous attention is present in the ways in which children of indigenous backgrounds interact both with their surroundings and with other individuals. Simultaneous attention requires focus on multiple simultaneous activities or occurrences. This differs from multitasking, which is characterized by alternating attention and focus between multiple activities, or halting one activity before switching to the next.

Simultaneous attention involves uninterrupted attention to several activities occurring at the same time. Another cultural practice that may relate to simultaneous attention strategies is coordination within a group. Indigenous heritage toddlers and caregivers in San Pedro were observed to frequently coordinate their activities with other members of a group in ways parallel to a model of simultaneous attention, whereas middle-class European-descent families in the U.S. would move back and forth between events. [6] [34] Research concludes that children with close ties to Indigenous American roots have a high tendency to be especially wide, keen observers. [35] This points to a strong cultural difference in attention management.

Overt and covert orienting Edit

Attention may be differentiated into "overt" versus "covert" orienting. [36]

Overt orienting is the act of selectively attending to an item or location over others by moving the eyes to point in that direction. [37] Overt orienting can be directly observed in the form of eye movements. Although overt eye movements are quite common, there is a distinction that can be made between two types of eye movements reflexive and controlled. Reflexive movements are commanded by the superior colliculus of the midbrain. These movements are fast and are activated by the sudden appearance of stimuli. In contrast, controlled eye movements are commanded by areas in the frontal lobe. These movements are slow and voluntary.

Covert orienting is the act of mentally shifting one's focus without moving one's eyes. [11] [37] [38] Simply, it is changes in attention that are not attributable to overt eye movements. Covert orienting has the potential to affect the output of perceptual processes by governing attention to particular items or locations (for example, the activity of a V4 neuron whose receptive field lies on an attended stimuli will be enhanced by covert attention) [39] but does not influence the information that is processed by the senses. Researchers often use "filtering" tasks to study the role of covert attention of selecting information. These tasks often require participants to observe a number of stimuli, but attend to only one.
The current view is that visual covert attention is a mechanism for quickly scanning the field of view for interesting locations. This shift in covert attention is linked to eye movement circuitry that sets up a slower saccade to that location. [ citation needed ]

There are studies that suggest the mechanisms of overt and covert orienting may not be controlled separately and independently as previously believed. Central mechanisms that may control covert orienting, such as the parietal lobe, also receive input from subcortical centres involved in overt orienting. [37] In support of this, general theories of attention actively assume bottom-up (reflexive) processes and top-down (voluntary) processes converge on a common neural architecture, in that they control both covert and overt attentional systems. [40] For example, if individuals attend to the right hand corner field of view, movement of the eyes in that direction may have to be actively suppressed.

Exogenous and endogenous orienting Edit

Orienting attention is vital and can be controlled through external (exogenous) or internal (endogenous) processes. However, comparing these two processes is challenging because external signals do not operate completely exogenously, but will only summon attention and eye movements if they are important to the subject. [37]

Exogenous (from Greek exo, meaning "outside", and genein, meaning "to produce") orienting is frequently described as being under control of a stimulus. [41] Exogenous orienting is considered to be reflexive and automatic and is caused by a sudden change in the periphery. This often results in a reflexive saccade. Since exogenous cues are typically presented in the periphery, they are referred to as peripheral cues. Exogenous orienting can even be observed when individuals are aware that the cue will not relay reliable, accurate information about where a target is going to occur. This means that the mere presence of an exogenous cue will affect the response to other stimuli that are subsequently presented in the cue's previous location. [42]

Several studies have investigated the influence of valid and invalid cues. [37] [43] [44] [45] They concluded that valid peripheral cues benefit performance, for instance when the peripheral cues are brief flashes at the relevant location before to the onset of a visual stimulus. Posner and Cohen (1984) noted a reversal of this benefit takes place when the interval between the onset of the cue and the onset of the target is longer than about 300 ms. [46] The phenomenon of valid cues producing longer reaction times than invalid cues is called inhibition of return.

Endogenous (from Greek endo, meaning "within" or "internally") orienting is the intentional allocation of attentional resources to a predetermined location or space. Simply stated, endogenous orienting occurs when attention is oriented according to an observer's goals or desires, allowing the focus of attention to be manipulated by the demands of a task. In order to have an effect, endogenous cues must be processed by the observer and acted upon purposefully. These cues are frequently referred to as central cues. This is because they are typically presented at the center of a display, where an observer's eyes are likely to be fixated. Central cues, such as an arrow or digit presented at fixation, tell observers to attend to a specific location. [47]

When examining differences between exogenous and endogenous orienting, some researchers suggest that there are four differences between the two kinds of cues:

  • exogenous orienting is less affected by cognitive load than endogenous orienting
  • observers are able to ignore endogenous cues but not exogenous cues
  • exogenous cues have bigger effects than endogenous cues and
  • expectancies about cue validity and predictive value affects endogenous orienting more than exogenous orienting. [48]

There exist both overlaps and differences in the areas of the brain that are responsible for endogenous and exogenous orientating. [49] Another approach to this discussion has been covered under the topic heading of "bottom-up" versus "top-down" orientations to attention. Researchers of this school have described two different aspects of how the mind focuses attention to items present in the environment. The first aspect is called bottom-up processing, also known as stimulus-driven attention or exogenous attention. These describe attentional processing which is driven by the properties of the objects themselves. Some processes, such as motion or a sudden loud noise, can attract our attention in a pre-conscious, or non-volitional way. We attend to them whether we want to or not. [50] These aspects of attention are thought to involve parietal and temporal cortices, as well as the brainstem. [51] More recent experimental evidence [52] [53] [54] support the idea that the primary visual cortex creates a bottom-up saliency map, [55] [3] which is received by the superior colliculus in the midbrain area to guide attention or gaze shifts.

The second aspect is called top-down processing, also known as goal-driven, endogenous attention, attentional control or executive attention. This aspect of our attentional orienting is under the control of the person who is attending. It is mediated primarily by the frontal cortex and basal ganglia [51] [56] as one of the executive functions. [37] [51] Research has shown that it is related to other aspects of the executive functions, such as working memory, [57] and conflict resolution and inhibition. [58]

Influence of processing load Edit

A "hugely influential" [59] theory regarding selective attention is the perceptual load theory, which states that there are two mechanisms that affect attention: cognitive and perceptual. The perceptual considers the subject's ability to perceive or ignore stimuli, both task-related and non task-related. Studies show that if there are many stimuli present (especially if they are task-related), it is much easier to ignore the non-task related stimuli, but if there are few stimuli the mind will perceive the irrelevant stimuli as well as the relevant. The cognitive refers to the actual processing of the stimuli. Studies regarding this showed that the ability to process stimuli decreased with age, meaning that younger people were able to perceive more stimuli and fully process them, but were likely to process both relevant and irrelevant information, while older people could process fewer stimuli, but usually processed only relevant information. [60]

Some people can process multiple stimuli, e.g. trained Morse code operators have been able to copy 100% of a message while carrying on a meaningful conversation. This relies on the reflexive response due to "overlearning" the skill of morse code reception/detection/transcription so that it is an autonomous function requiring no specific attention to perform. This overtraining of the brain comes as the "practice of a skill [surpasses] 100% accuracy," allowing the activity to become autonomic, while your mind has room to process other actions simultaneously. [61]

Clinical model Edit

Attention is best described as the sustained focus of cognitive resources on information while filtering or ignoring extraneous information. Attention is a very basic function that often is a precursor to all other neurological/cognitive functions. As is frequently the case, clinical models of attention differ from investigation models. One of the most used models for the evaluation of attention in patients with very different neurologic pathologies is the model of Sohlberg and Mateer. [62] This hierarchic model is based in the recovering of attention processes of brain damage patients after coma. Five different kinds of activities of growing difficulty are described in the model connecting with the activities those patients could do as their recovering process advanced.

  • Focused attention: The ability to respond discretely to specific visual, auditory or tactile stimuli.
  • Sustained attention (vigilance and concentration): The ability to maintain a consistent behavioral response during continuous and repetitive activity.
  • Selective attention: The ability to maintain a behavioral or cognitive set in the face of distracting or competing stimuli. Therefore, it incorporates the notion of "freedom from distractibility."
  • Alternating attention: The ability of mental flexibility that allows individuals to shift their focus of attention and move between tasks having different cognitive requirements.
  • Divided attention: This refers to the ability to respond simultaneously to multiple tasks or multiple task demands.

This model has been shown to be very useful in evaluating attention in very different pathologies, correlates strongly with daily difficulties and is especially helpful in designing stimulation programs such as attention process training, a rehabilitation program for neurological patients of the same authors.

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness has been conceptualized as a clinical model of attention. [63]Mindfulness practices are clinical interventions that emphasize training attention functions. [64]
  • Vigilant attention: Remaining focused on a non-arousing stimulus or uninteresting task for a sustained period is far more difficult than attending to arousing stimuli and interesting tasks, and requires a specific type of attention called 'vigilant attention'. [65] Thereby, vigilant attention is the ability to give sustained attention to a stimulus or task that might ordinarily be insufficiently engaging to prevent our attention being distracted by other stimuli or tasks. [66]

Neural correlates Edit

Most experiments show that one neural correlate of attention is enhanced firing. If a neuron has a certain response to a stimulus when the animal is not attending to the stimulus, then when the animal does attend to the stimulus, the neuron's response will be enhanced even if the physical characteristics of the stimulus remain the same.

In a 2007 review, Knudsen [67] describes a more general model which identifies four core processes of attention, with working memory at the center:

    temporarily stores information for detailed analysis.
  • Competitive selection is the process that determines which information gains access to working memory.
  • Through top-down sensitivity control, higher cognitive processes can regulate signal intensity in information channels that compete for access to working memory, and thus give them an advantage in the process of competitive selection. Through top-down sensitivity control, the momentary content of working memory can influence the selection of new information, and thus mediate voluntary control of attention in a recurrent loop (endogenous attention). [68]
  • Bottom-up saliency filters automatically enhance the response to infrequent stimuli, or stimuli of instinctive or learned biological relevance (exogenous attention). [68]

Neurally, at different hierarchical levels spatial maps can enhance or inhibit activity in sensory areas, and induce orienting behaviors like eye movement.

  • At the top of the hierarchy, the frontal eye fields (FEF) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex contain a retinocentric spatial map. Microstimulation in the FEF induces monkeys to make a saccade to the relevant location. Stimulation at levels too low to induce a saccade will nonetheless enhance cortical responses to stimuli located in the relevant area.
  • At the next lower level, a variety of spatial maps are found in the parietal cortex. In particular, the lateral intraparietal area (LIP) contains a saliency map and is interconnected both with the FEF and with sensory areas.
  • Exogenous attentional guidance in humans and monkeys is by a bottom-up saliency map in the primary visual cortex. [55][3] In lower vertebrates, this saliency map is more likely in the superior colliculus (optic tectum). [69]
  • Certain automatic responses that influence attention, like orienting to a highly salient stimulus, are mediated subcortically by the superior colliculi.
  • At the neural network level, it is thought that processes like lateral inhibition mediate the process of competitive selection.

In many cases attention produces changes in the EEG. Many animals, including humans, produce gamma waves (40–60 Hz) when focusing attention on a particular object or activity. [70] [71] [39] [72]

Another commonly used model for the attention system has been put forth by researchers such as Michael Posner. He divides attention into three functional components: alerting, orienting, and executive attention [51] [73] that can also interact and influence each other. [74] [75] [76]

  • Alerting is the process involved in becoming and staying attentive toward the surroundings. It appears to exist in the frontal and parietal lobes of the right hemisphere, and is modulated by norepinephrine. [77][78]
  • Orienting is the directing of attention to a specific stimulus.
  • Executive attention is used when there is a conflict between multiple attention cues. It is essentially the same as the central executive in Baddeley's model of working memory. The Eriksen flanker task has shown that the executive control of attention may take place in the anterior cingulate cortex[79]

Cultural variation Edit

Children appear to develop patterns of attention related to the cultural practices of their families, communities, and the institutions in which they participate. [80]

In 1955, Jules Henry suggested that there are societal differences in sensitivity to signals from many ongoing sources that call for the awareness of several levels of attention simultaneously. He tied his speculation to ethnographic observations of communities in which children are involved in a complex social community with multiple relationships. [6]

Many Indigenous children in the Americas predominantly learn by observing and pitching in. There are several studies to support that the use of keen attention towards learning is much more common in Indigenous Communities of North and Central America than in a middle-class European-American setting. [81] This is a direct result of the Learning by Observing and Pitching In model.

Keen attention is both a requirement and result of learning by observing and pitching-in. Incorporating the children in the community gives them the opportunity to keenly observe and contribute to activities that were not directed towards them. It can be seen from different Indigenous communities and cultures, such as the Mayans of San Pedro, that children can simultaneously attend to multiple events. [6] Most Maya children have learned to pay attention to several events at once in order to make useful observations. [82]

One example is simultaneous attention which involves uninterrupted attention to several activities occurring at the same time. Another cultural practice that may relate to simultaneous attention strategies is coordination within a group. San Pedro toddlers and caregivers frequently coordinated their activities with other members of a group in multiway engagements rather than in a dyadic fashion. [6] [34] Research concludes that children with close ties to Indigenous American roots have a high tendency to be especially keen observers. [35]

This learning by observing and pitching-in model requires active levels of attention management. The child is present while caretakers engage in daily activities and responsibilities such as: weaving, farming, and other skills necessary for survival. Being present allows the child to focus their attention on the actions being performed by their parents, elders, and/or older siblings. [81] In order to learn in this way, keen attention and focus is required. Eventually the child is expected to be able to perform these skills themselves.

Modelling Edit

In the domain of computer vision, efforts have been made to model the mechanism of human attention, especially the bottom-up intentional mechanism [83] and its semantic significance in classification of video contents. [84] [85] Both spatial attention and temporal attention have been incorporated in such classification efforts.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of models to mimic the bottom-up salience mechanism in static images. One way is based on the spatial contrast analysis. For example, a center–surround mechanism has been used to define salience across scales, inspired by the putative neural mechanism. [86] It has also been hypothesized that some visual inputs are intrinsically salient in certain background contexts and that these are actually task-independent. This model has established itself as the exemplar for salience detection and consistently used for comparison in the literature [83] the other way is based on the frequency domain analysis. This method was first proposed by Hou et al., [87] this method was called SR, and then PQFT method was also introduced. Both SR and PQFT only use the phase information. [83] In 2012, the HFT method was introduced, and both the amplitude and the phase information are made use of. [88] The Neural Abstraction Pyramid [89] is a hierarchical recurrent convolutional model, which incorporates bottom-up and top-down flow of information to iteratively interpret images.

Hemispatial neglect Edit

Hemispatial neglect, also called unilateral neglect, often occurs when people have damage to their right hemisphere. [90] This damage often leads to a tendency to ignore the left side of one's body or even the left side of an object that can be seen. Damage to the left side of the brain (the left hemisphere) rarely yields significant neglect of the right side of the body or object in the person's local environments. [91]

The effects of spatial neglect, however, may vary and differ depending on what area of the brain was damaged. Damage to different neural substrates can result in different types of neglect. Attention disorders (lateralized and nonlaterized) may also contribute to the symptoms and effects. [91] Much research has asserted that damage to gray matter within the brain results in spatial neglect. [92]

New technology has yielded more information, such that there is a large, distributed network of frontal, parietal, temporal, and subcortical brain areas that have been tied to neglect. [93] This network can be related to other research as well the dorsal attention network is tied to spatial orienting. [94] The effect of damage to this network may result in patients neglecting their left side when distracted about their right side or an object on their right side. [90]

Attention in social contexts Edit

Social attention is one special form of attention that involves the allocation of limited processing resources in a social context. Previous studies on social attention often regard how attention is directed toward socially relevant stimuli such as faces and gaze directions of other individuals. [95] In contrast to attending-to-others, a different line of researches has shown that self-related information such as own face and name automatically captures attention and is preferentially processed comparing to other-related information. [96] These contrasting effects between attending-to-others and attending-to-self prompt a synthetic view in a recent Opinion article [97] proposing that social attention operates at two polarizing states: In one extreme, individual tends to attend to the self and prioritize self-related information over others', and, in the other extreme, attention is allocated to other individuals to infer their intentions and desires. Attending-to-self and attending-to-others mark the two ends of an otherwise continuum spectrum of social attention. For a given behavioral context, the mechanisms underlying these two polarities might interact and compete with each other in order to determine a saliency map of social attention that guides our behaviors. [97] An imbalanced competition between these two behavioral and cognitive processes will cause cognitive disorders and neurological symptoms such as autism spectrum disorders and Williams syndrome.

Distracting factors Edit

According to Daniel Goleman's book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, there are two types of distracting factors affecting focus – sensory and emotional. A sensory distracting factor would be, for example, while a person is reading this article, they are neglecting the white field surrounding the text. An emotional distracting factor would be when someone is focused on answering an email, and somebody shouts their name. It would be almost impossible to neglect the voice speaking it. Attention is immediately directed toward the source.

Failure to attend Edit

Inattentional blindness was first introduced in 1998 by Arien Mack and Irvic Rock. Their studies show that when people are focused on specific stimuli, they often miss other stimuli that are clearly present. Though actual blindness is not occurring here, the blindness that happens is due to the perceptual load of what is being attended too. [98] Based on the experiment performed by Mack and Rock, Ula Finch and Nilli Lavie tested participants with a perceptual task. They presented subjects with a cross, one arm being longer than the other, for 5 trials. On the sixth trial, a white square was added to the top left of the screen. The results conclude that out of 10 participants, only 2 (10%) actually saw the square. This would suggest that when a higher focus was attended to the length of the crossed arms, the more likely someone would altogether miss an object that was in plain sight. [99]

Change blindness was first tested by Rensink and coworkers in 1997. Their studies show that people have difficulty detecting changes from scene to scene due to the intense focus on one thing, or lack of attention overall. This was tested by Rensink through a presentation of a picture, and then a blank field, and then the same picture but with an item missing. The results showed that the pictures had to be alternated back and forth a good number of times for participants to notice the difference. This idea is greatly portrayed in films that have continuity errors. Many people do not pick up on differences when in reality, the changes tend to be significant. [100]

Philosophical period Edit

Psychologist Daniel E. Berlyne credits the first extended treatment of attention to philosopher Nicolas Malebranche in his work "The Search After Truth". "Malebranche held that we have access to ideas, or mental representations of the external world, but not direct access to the world itself." [7] Thus in order to keep these ideas organized, attention is necessary. Otherwise we will confuse these ideas. Malebranche writes in "The Search After Truth", "because it often happens that the understanding has only confused and imperfect perceptions of things, it is truly a cause of our errors. It is therefore necessary to look for means to keep our perceptions from being confused and imperfect. And, because, as everyone knows, there is nothing that makes them clearer and more distinct than attentiveness, we must try to find the means to become more attentive than we are". [101] According to Malebranche, attention is crucial to understanding and keeping thoughts organized.

Philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz introduced the concept of apperception to this philosophical approach to attention. Apperception refers to "the process by which new experience is assimilated to and transformed by the residuum of past experience of an individual to form a new whole." [102] Apperception is required for a perceived event to become a conscious event. Leibniz emphasized a reflexive involuntary view of attention known as exogenous orienting. However, there is also endogenous orienting which is voluntary and directed attention. Philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart agreed with Leibniz's view of apperception however, he expounded on it in by saying that new experiences had to be tied to ones already existing in the mind. Herbart was also the first person to stress the importance of applying mathematical modeling to the study of psychology. [7]

Throughout the philosophical era, various thinkers made significant contributions to the field of attention studies, beginning with research on the extent of attention and how attention is directed. In the beginning of the 19th century, it was thought that people were not able to attend to more than one stimulus at a time. However, with research contributions by Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet this view was changed. Hamilton proposed a view of attention that likened its capacity to holding marbles. You can only hold a certain number of marbles at a time before it starts to spill over. His view states that we can attend to more than one stimulus at once. William Stanley Jevons later expanded this view and stated that we can attend to up to four items at a time. [103]

1860–1909 Edit

This period of attention research took the focus from conceptual findings to experimental testing. It also involved psychophysical methods that allowed measurement of the relation between physical stimulus properties and the psychological perceptions of them. This period covers the development of attentional research from the founding of psychology to 1909.

Wilhelm Wundt introduced the study of attention to the field of psychology. Wundt measured mental processing speed by likening it to differences in stargazing measurements. Astronomers in this time would measure the time it took for stars to travel. Among these measurements when astronomers recorded the times, there were personal differences in calculation. These different readings resulted in different reports from each astronomer. To correct for this, a personal equation was developed. Wundt applied this to mental processing speed. Wundt realized that the time it takes to see the stimulus of the star and write down the time was being called an "observation error" but actually was the time it takes to switch voluntarily one's attention from one stimulus to another. Wundt called his school of psychology voluntarism. It was his belief that psychological processes can only be understood in terms of goals and consequences.

Franciscus Donders used mental chronometry to study attention and it was considered a major field of intellectual inquiry by authors such as Sigmund Freud. Donders and his students conducted the first detailed investigations of the speed of mental processes. Donders measured the time required to identify a stimulus and to select a motor response. This was the time difference between stimulus discrimination and response initiation. Donders also formalized the subtractive method which states that the time for a particular process can be estimated by adding that process to a task and taking the difference in reaction time between the two tasks. He also differentiated between three types of reactions: simple reaction, choice reaction, and go/no-go reaction.

Hermann von Helmholtz also contributed to the field of attention relating to the extent of attention. Von Helmholtz stated that it is possible to focus on one stimulus and still perceive or ignore others. An example of this is being able to focus on the letter u in the word house and still perceiving the letters h, o, s, and e.

One major debate in this period was whether it was possible to attend to two things at once (split attention). Walter Benjamin described this experience as "reception in a state of distraction." This disagreement could only be resolved through experimentation.

Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German. [104]

James differentiated between censorial attention and intellectual attention. Censorial attention is when attention is directed to objects of sense, stimuli that are physically present. Intellectual attention is attention directed to ideal or represented objects stimuli that are not physically present. James also distinguished between immediate or derived attention: attention to the present versus to something not physically present. According to James, attention has five major effects. Attention works to make us perceive, conceive, distinguish, remember, and shorten reactions time.

1910–1949 Edit

During this period, research in attention waned and interest in behaviorism flourished, leading some to believe, like Ulric Neisser, that in this period, "There was no research on attention". However, Jersild published very important work on "Mental Set and Shift" in 1927. He stated, "The fact of mental set is primary in all conscious activity. The same stimulus may evoke any one of a large number of responses depending upon the contextual setting in which it is placed". [105] This research found that the time to complete a list was longer for mixed lists than for pure lists. For example, if a list was names of animals versus a list of the same size with names of animals, books, makes and models of cars, and types of fruits, it takes longer to process the second list. This is task switching.

In 1931, Telford discovered the psychological refractory period. The stimulation of neurons is followed by a refractory phase during which neurons are less sensitive to stimulation. In 1935 John Ridley Stroop developed the Stroop Task which elicited the Stroop Effect. Stroop's task showed that irrelevant stimulus information can have a major impact on performance. In this task, subjects were to look at a list of colors. This list of colors had each color typed in a color different from the actual text. For example, the word Blue would be typed in Orange, Pink in Black, and so on.

Example: Blue Purple Red Green Purple Green

Subjects were then instructed to say the name of the ink color and ignore the text. It took 110 seconds to complete a list of this type compared to 63 seconds to name the colors when presented in the form of solid squares. [7] The naming time nearly doubled in the presence of conflicting color words, an effect known as the Stroop Effect.

1950–1974 Edit

In the 1950s, research psychologists renewed their interest in attention when the dominant epistemology shifted from positivism (i.e., behaviorism) to realism during what has come to be known as the "cognitive revolution". [106] The cognitive revolution admitted unobservable cognitive processes like attention as legitimate objects of scientific study.

Modern research on attention began with the analysis of the "cocktail party problem" by Colin Cherry in 1953. At a cocktail party how do people select the conversation that they are listening to and ignore the rest? This problem is at times called "focused attention", as opposed to "divided attention". Cherry performed a number of experiments which became known as dichotic listening and were extended by Donald Broadbent and others. [107] : 112 In a typical experiment, subjects would use a set of headphones to listen to two streams of words in different ears and selectively attend to one stream. After the task, the experimenter would question the subjects about the content of the unattended stream.

Broadbent's Filter Model of Attention states that information is held in a pre-attentive temporary store, and only sensory events that have some physical feature in common are selected to pass into the limited capacity processing system. This implies that the meaning of unattended messages is not identified. Also, a significant amount of time is required to shift the filter from one channel to another. Experiments by Gray and Wedderburn and later Anne Treisman pointed out various problems in Broadbent's early model and eventually led to the Deutsch–Norman model in 1968. In this model, no signal is filtered out, but all are processed to the point of activating their stored representations in memory. The point at which attention becomes "selective" is when one of the memory representations is selected for further processing. At any time, only one can be selected, resulting in the attentional bottleneck. [107] : 115–116

This debate became known as the early-selection vs. late-selection models. In the early selection models (first proposed by Donald Broadbent), attention shuts down (in Broadbent's model) or attenuates (in Triesman's refinement) processing in the unattended ear before the mind can analyze its semantic content. In the late selection models (first proposed by J. Anthony Deutsch and Diana Deutsch), the content in both ears is analyzed semantically, but the words in the unattended ear cannot access consciousness. [108] Lavie's perceptual load theory, however, "provided elegant solution to" what had once been a "heated debate". [109]


Contents

Prior to the founding of psychology as a scientific discipline, attention was studied in the field of philosophy. Thus, many of the discoveries in the field of attention were made by philosophers. Psychologist John B. Watson calls Juan Luis Vives the father of modern psychology because, in his book De Anima et Vita (The Soul and Life), he was the first to recognize the importance of empirical investigation. [7] In his work on memory, Vives found that the more closely one attends to stimuli, the better they will be retained.

By the 1990s, psychologists began using positron emission tomography (PET) and later functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to image the brain while monitoring tasks involving attention. Considering this expensive equipment was generally only available in hospitals, psychologists sought cooperation with neurologists. Psychologist Michael Posner (then already renowned for his influential work on visual selective attention) and neurologist Marcus Raichle pioneered brain imaging studies of selective attention. [8] Their results soon sparked interest from the neuroscience community, which until then had simply been focused on monkey brains. With the development of these technological innovations, neuroscientists became interested in this type of research that combines sophisticated experimental paradigms from cognitive psychology with these new brain imaging techniques. Although the older technique of electroencephalography (EEG) had long been used to study the brain activity underlying selective attention by cognitive psychophysiologists, the ability of the newer techniques to actually measure precisely localized activity inside the brain generated renewed interest by a wider community of researchers. A growing body of such neuroimaging research has identified a frontoparietal attention network which appears to be responsible for control of attention. [9]

In cognitive psychology there are at least two models which describe how visual attention operates. These models may be considered metaphors which are used to describe internal processes and to generate hypotheses that are falsifiable. Generally speaking, visual attention is thought to operate as a two-stage process. [10] In the first stage, attention is distributed uniformly over the external visual scene and processing of information is performed in parallel. In the second stage, attention is concentrated to a specific area of the visual scene (i.e., it is focused), and processing is performed in a serial fashion.

The first of these models to appear in the literature is the spotlight model. The term "spotlight" was inspired by the work of William James, who described attention as having a focus, a margin, and a fringe. [11] The focus is an area that extracts information from the visual scene with a high-resolution, the geometric center of which being where visual attention is directed. Surrounding the focus is the fringe of attention, which extracts information in a much more crude fashion (i.e., low-resolution). This fringe extends out to a specified area, and the cut-off is called the margin.

The second model is called the zoom-lens model and was first introduced in 1986. [12] This model inherits all properties of the spotlight model (i.e., the focus, the fringe, and the margin), but it has the added property of changing in size. This size-change mechanism was inspired by the zoom lens one might find on a camera, and any change in size can be described by a trade-off in the efficiency of processing. [13] The zoom-lens of attention can be described in terms of an inverse trade-off between the size of focus and the efficiency of processing: because attention resources are assumed to be fixed, then it follows that the larger the focus is, the slower processing will be of that region of the visual scene, since this fixed resource will be distributed over a larger area. It is thought that the focus of attention can subtend a minimum of 1° of visual angle, [11] [14] however the maximum size has not yet been determined.

A significant debate emerged in the last decade of the 20th century in which Treisman's 1993 Feature Integration Theory (FIT) was compared to Duncan and Humphrey's 1989 attentional engagement theory (AET). [15] : 5–7 FIT posits that "objects are retrieved from scenes by means of selective spatial attention that picks out objects' features, forms feature maps, and integrates those features that are found at the same location into forming objects." Treismans's theory is based on a two-stage process to help solve the binding problem of attention. These two stages are the preattentive stage and the focused attention stage.

  1. Preattentive Stage: The unconscious detection and separation of features of an item (color, shape, size). Treisman suggests that this happens early in cognitive processing and that individuals are not aware of the occurrence due to the counter intuitiveness of separating a whole into its part. Evidence shows that preattentive focuses are accurate due to illusory conjunctions. [16]
  2. Focused Attention Stage: The combining of all feature identifiers to perceive all parts as one whole. This is possible through prior knowledge and cognitive mapping. When an item is seen within a known location and has features that people have knowledge of, then prior knowledge will help bring features all together to make sense of what is perceived. The case of R.M's damage to his parietal lobe, also known as Balint's syndrome, shows the incorporation of focused attention and combination of features in the role of attention. [17]

Through sequencing these steps, parallel and serial search is better exhibited through the formation of conjunctions of objects. Conjunctive searches, according to Treismans, are done through both stages [18] in order to create selective and focused attention on an object, though Duncan and Humphrey would disagree. Duncan and Humphrey's AET understanding of attention maintained that "there is an initial pre-attentive parallel phase of perceptual segmentation and analysis that encompasses all of the visual items present in a scene. At this phase, descriptions of the objects in a visual scene are generated into structural units the outcome of this parallel phase is a multiple-spatial-scale structured representation. Selective attention intervenes after this stage to select information that will be entered into visual short-term memory." [15] : 5–7 The contrast of the two theories placed a new emphasis on the separation of visual attention tasks alone and those mediated by supplementary cognitive processes. As Rastophopoulos summarizes the debate: "Against Treisman's FIT, which posits spatial attention as a necessary condition for detection of objects, Humphreys argues that visual elements are encoded and bound together in an initial parallel phase without focal attention, and that attention serves to select among the objects that result from this initial grouping." [15] : 8

In the twentieth century, the pioneering research of Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria led to the three-part model of neuropsychology defining the working brain as being represented by three co-active processes listed as Attention, Memory, and Activation. A.R. Luria published his well-known book The Working Brain in 1973 as a concise adjunct volume to his previous 1962 book Higher Cortical Functions in Man. In this volume, Luria summarized his three-part global theory of the working brain as being composed of three constantly co-active processes which he described as the (1) Attention system, (2) Mnestic (memory) system, and (3) Cortical activation system. The two books together are considered by Homskaya's account as "among Luria's major works in neuropsychology, most fully reflecting all the aspects (theoretical, clinical, experimental) of this new discipline." [19] The product of the combined research of Vygotsky and Luria have determined a large part of the contemporary understanding and definition of attention as it is understood at the start of the 21st-century.

Multitasking can be defined as the attempt to perform two or more tasks simultaneously however, research shows that when multitasking, people make more mistakes or perform their tasks more slowly. [20] Attention must be divided among all of the component tasks to perform them. In divided attention, individuals attend or give attention to multiple sources of information at once or perform more than one task at the same time. [21]

Older research involved looking at the limits of people performing simultaneous tasks like reading stories, while listening and writing something else, [22] or listening to two separate messages through different ears (i.e., dichotic listening). Generally, classical research into attention investigated the ability of people to learn new information when there were multiple tasks to be performed, or to probe the limits of our perception (c.f. Donald Broadbent). There is also older literature on people's performance on multiple tasks performed simultaneously, such as driving a car while tuning a radio [23] or driving while being on the phone. [24]

The vast majority of current research on human multitasking is based on performance of doing two tasks simultaneously, [20] usually that involves driving while performing another task, such as texting, eating, or even speaking to passengers in the vehicle, or with a friend over a cellphone. This research reveals that the human attentional system has limits for what it can process: driving performance is worse while engaged in other tasks drivers make more mistakes, brake harder and later, get into more accidents, veer into other lanes, and/or are less aware of their surroundings when engaged in the previously discussed tasks. [25] [26] [27]

There has been little difference found between speaking on a hands-free cell phone or a hand-held cell phone, [5] [28] which suggests that it is the strain of attentional system that causes problems, rather than what the driver is doing with his or her hands. While speaking with a passenger is as cognitively demanding as speaking with a friend over the phone, [29] passengers are able to change the conversation based upon the needs of the driver. For example, if traffic intensifies, a passenger may stop talking to allow the driver to navigate the increasingly difficult roadway a conversation partner over a phone would not be aware of the change in environment.

There have been multiple theories regarding divided attention. One, conceived by Kahneman, [30] explains that there is a single pool of attentional resources that can be freely divided among multiple tasks. This model seems oversimplified, however, due to the different modalities (e.g., visual, auditory, verbal) that are perceived. [31] When the two simultaneous tasks use the same modality, such as listening to a radio station and writing a paper, it is much more difficult to concentrate on both because the tasks are likely to interfere with each other. The specific modality model was theorized by Navon and Gopher in 1979. However, more recent research using well controlled dual-task paradigms points at the importance of tasks. [32]

As an alternative, resource theory has been proposed as a more accurate metaphor for explaining divided attention on complex tasks. Resource theory states that as each complex task is automatized, performing that task requires less of the individual's limited-capacity attentional resources. [31] Other variables play a part in our ability to pay attention to and concentrate on many tasks at once. These include, but are not limited to, anxiety, arousal, task difficulty, and skills. [31]

Simultaneous attention is a type of attention, classified by attending to multiple events at the same time. Simultaneous attention is demonstrated by children in Indigenous communities, who learn through this type of attention to their surroundings. [33] Simultaneous attention is present in the ways in which children of indigenous backgrounds interact both with their surroundings and with other individuals. Simultaneous attention requires focus on multiple simultaneous activities or occurrences. This differs from multitasking, which is characterized by alternating attention and focus between multiple activities, or halting one activity before switching to the next.

Simultaneous attention involves uninterrupted attention to several activities occurring at the same time. Another cultural practice that may relate to simultaneous attention strategies is coordination within a group. Indigenous heritage toddlers and caregivers in San Pedro were observed to frequently coordinate their activities with other members of a group in ways parallel to a model of simultaneous attention, whereas middle-class European-descent families in the U.S. would move back and forth between events. [6] [34] Research concludes that children with close ties to Indigenous American roots have a high tendency to be especially wide, keen observers. [35] This points to a strong cultural difference in attention management.

Overt and covert orienting Edit

Attention may be differentiated into "overt" versus "covert" orienting. [36]

Overt orienting is the act of selectively attending to an item or location over others by moving the eyes to point in that direction. [37] Overt orienting can be directly observed in the form of eye movements. Although overt eye movements are quite common, there is a distinction that can be made between two types of eye movements reflexive and controlled. Reflexive movements are commanded by the superior colliculus of the midbrain. These movements are fast and are activated by the sudden appearance of stimuli. In contrast, controlled eye movements are commanded by areas in the frontal lobe. These movements are slow and voluntary.

Covert orienting is the act of mentally shifting one's focus without moving one's eyes. [11] [37] [38] Simply, it is changes in attention that are not attributable to overt eye movements. Covert orienting has the potential to affect the output of perceptual processes by governing attention to particular items or locations (for example, the activity of a V4 neuron whose receptive field lies on an attended stimuli will be enhanced by covert attention) [39] but does not influence the information that is processed by the senses. Researchers often use "filtering" tasks to study the role of covert attention of selecting information. These tasks often require participants to observe a number of stimuli, but attend to only one.
The current view is that visual covert attention is a mechanism for quickly scanning the field of view for interesting locations. This shift in covert attention is linked to eye movement circuitry that sets up a slower saccade to that location. [ citation needed ]

There are studies that suggest the mechanisms of overt and covert orienting may not be controlled separately and independently as previously believed. Central mechanisms that may control covert orienting, such as the parietal lobe, also receive input from subcortical centres involved in overt orienting. [37] In support of this, general theories of attention actively assume bottom-up (reflexive) processes and top-down (voluntary) processes converge on a common neural architecture, in that they control both covert and overt attentional systems. [40] For example, if individuals attend to the right hand corner field of view, movement of the eyes in that direction may have to be actively suppressed.

Exogenous and endogenous orienting Edit

Orienting attention is vital and can be controlled through external (exogenous) or internal (endogenous) processes. However, comparing these two processes is challenging because external signals do not operate completely exogenously, but will only summon attention and eye movements if they are important to the subject. [37]

Exogenous (from Greek exo, meaning "outside", and genein, meaning "to produce") orienting is frequently described as being under control of a stimulus. [41] Exogenous orienting is considered to be reflexive and automatic and is caused by a sudden change in the periphery. This often results in a reflexive saccade. Since exogenous cues are typically presented in the periphery, they are referred to as peripheral cues. Exogenous orienting can even be observed when individuals are aware that the cue will not relay reliable, accurate information about where a target is going to occur. This means that the mere presence of an exogenous cue will affect the response to other stimuli that are subsequently presented in the cue's previous location. [42]

Several studies have investigated the influence of valid and invalid cues. [37] [43] [44] [45] They concluded that valid peripheral cues benefit performance, for instance when the peripheral cues are brief flashes at the relevant location before to the onset of a visual stimulus. Posner and Cohen (1984) noted a reversal of this benefit takes place when the interval between the onset of the cue and the onset of the target is longer than about 300 ms. [46] The phenomenon of valid cues producing longer reaction times than invalid cues is called inhibition of return.

Endogenous (from Greek endo, meaning "within" or "internally") orienting is the intentional allocation of attentional resources to a predetermined location or space. Simply stated, endogenous orienting occurs when attention is oriented according to an observer's goals or desires, allowing the focus of attention to be manipulated by the demands of a task. In order to have an effect, endogenous cues must be processed by the observer and acted upon purposefully. These cues are frequently referred to as central cues. This is because they are typically presented at the center of a display, where an observer's eyes are likely to be fixated. Central cues, such as an arrow or digit presented at fixation, tell observers to attend to a specific location. [47]

When examining differences between exogenous and endogenous orienting, some researchers suggest that there are four differences between the two kinds of cues:

  • exogenous orienting is less affected by cognitive load than endogenous orienting
  • observers are able to ignore endogenous cues but not exogenous cues
  • exogenous cues have bigger effects than endogenous cues and
  • expectancies about cue validity and predictive value affects endogenous orienting more than exogenous orienting. [48]

There exist both overlaps and differences in the areas of the brain that are responsible for endogenous and exogenous orientating. [49] Another approach to this discussion has been covered under the topic heading of "bottom-up" versus "top-down" orientations to attention. Researchers of this school have described two different aspects of how the mind focuses attention to items present in the environment. The first aspect is called bottom-up processing, also known as stimulus-driven attention or exogenous attention. These describe attentional processing which is driven by the properties of the objects themselves. Some processes, such as motion or a sudden loud noise, can attract our attention in a pre-conscious, or non-volitional way. We attend to them whether we want to or not. [50] These aspects of attention are thought to involve parietal and temporal cortices, as well as the brainstem. [51] More recent experimental evidence [52] [53] [54] support the idea that the primary visual cortex creates a bottom-up saliency map, [55] [3] which is received by the superior colliculus in the midbrain area to guide attention or gaze shifts.

The second aspect is called top-down processing, also known as goal-driven, endogenous attention, attentional control or executive attention. This aspect of our attentional orienting is under the control of the person who is attending. It is mediated primarily by the frontal cortex and basal ganglia [51] [56] as one of the executive functions. [37] [51] Research has shown that it is related to other aspects of the executive functions, such as working memory, [57] and conflict resolution and inhibition. [58]

Influence of processing load Edit

A "hugely influential" [59] theory regarding selective attention is the perceptual load theory, which states that there are two mechanisms that affect attention: cognitive and perceptual. The perceptual considers the subject's ability to perceive or ignore stimuli, both task-related and non task-related. Studies show that if there are many stimuli present (especially if they are task-related), it is much easier to ignore the non-task related stimuli, but if there are few stimuli the mind will perceive the irrelevant stimuli as well as the relevant. The cognitive refers to the actual processing of the stimuli. Studies regarding this showed that the ability to process stimuli decreased with age, meaning that younger people were able to perceive more stimuli and fully process them, but were likely to process both relevant and irrelevant information, while older people could process fewer stimuli, but usually processed only relevant information. [60]

Some people can process multiple stimuli, e.g. trained Morse code operators have been able to copy 100% of a message while carrying on a meaningful conversation. This relies on the reflexive response due to "overlearning" the skill of morse code reception/detection/transcription so that it is an autonomous function requiring no specific attention to perform. This overtraining of the brain comes as the "practice of a skill [surpasses] 100% accuracy," allowing the activity to become autonomic, while your mind has room to process other actions simultaneously. [61]

Clinical model Edit

Attention is best described as the sustained focus of cognitive resources on information while filtering or ignoring extraneous information. Attention is a very basic function that often is a precursor to all other neurological/cognitive functions. As is frequently the case, clinical models of attention differ from investigation models. One of the most used models for the evaluation of attention in patients with very different neurologic pathologies is the model of Sohlberg and Mateer. [62] This hierarchic model is based in the recovering of attention processes of brain damage patients after coma. Five different kinds of activities of growing difficulty are described in the model connecting with the activities those patients could do as their recovering process advanced.

  • Focused attention: The ability to respond discretely to specific visual, auditory or tactile stimuli.
  • Sustained attention (vigilance and concentration): The ability to maintain a consistent behavioral response during continuous and repetitive activity.
  • Selective attention: The ability to maintain a behavioral or cognitive set in the face of distracting or competing stimuli. Therefore, it incorporates the notion of "freedom from distractibility."
  • Alternating attention: The ability of mental flexibility that allows individuals to shift their focus of attention and move between tasks having different cognitive requirements.
  • Divided attention: This refers to the ability to respond simultaneously to multiple tasks or multiple task demands.

This model has been shown to be very useful in evaluating attention in very different pathologies, correlates strongly with daily difficulties and is especially helpful in designing stimulation programs such as attention process training, a rehabilitation program for neurological patients of the same authors.

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness has been conceptualized as a clinical model of attention. [63]Mindfulness practices are clinical interventions that emphasize training attention functions. [64]
  • Vigilant attention: Remaining focused on a non-arousing stimulus or uninteresting task for a sustained period is far more difficult than attending to arousing stimuli and interesting tasks, and requires a specific type of attention called 'vigilant attention'. [65] Thereby, vigilant attention is the ability to give sustained attention to a stimulus or task that might ordinarily be insufficiently engaging to prevent our attention being distracted by other stimuli or tasks. [66]

Neural correlates Edit

Most experiments show that one neural correlate of attention is enhanced firing. If a neuron has a certain response to a stimulus when the animal is not attending to the stimulus, then when the animal does attend to the stimulus, the neuron's response will be enhanced even if the physical characteristics of the stimulus remain the same.

In a 2007 review, Knudsen [67] describes a more general model which identifies four core processes of attention, with working memory at the center:

    temporarily stores information for detailed analysis.
  • Competitive selection is the process that determines which information gains access to working memory.
  • Through top-down sensitivity control, higher cognitive processes can regulate signal intensity in information channels that compete for access to working memory, and thus give them an advantage in the process of competitive selection. Through top-down sensitivity control, the momentary content of working memory can influence the selection of new information, and thus mediate voluntary control of attention in a recurrent loop (endogenous attention). [68]
  • Bottom-up saliency filters automatically enhance the response to infrequent stimuli, or stimuli of instinctive or learned biological relevance (exogenous attention). [68]

Neurally, at different hierarchical levels spatial maps can enhance or inhibit activity in sensory areas, and induce orienting behaviors like eye movement.

  • At the top of the hierarchy, the frontal eye fields (FEF) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex contain a retinocentric spatial map. Microstimulation in the FEF induces monkeys to make a saccade to the relevant location. Stimulation at levels too low to induce a saccade will nonetheless enhance cortical responses to stimuli located in the relevant area.
  • At the next lower level, a variety of spatial maps are found in the parietal cortex. In particular, the lateral intraparietal area (LIP) contains a saliency map and is interconnected both with the FEF and with sensory areas.
  • Exogenous attentional guidance in humans and monkeys is by a bottom-up saliency map in the primary visual cortex. [55][3] In lower vertebrates, this saliency map is more likely in the superior colliculus (optic tectum). [69]
  • Certain automatic responses that influence attention, like orienting to a highly salient stimulus, are mediated subcortically by the superior colliculi.
  • At the neural network level, it is thought that processes like lateral inhibition mediate the process of competitive selection.

In many cases attention produces changes in the EEG. Many animals, including humans, produce gamma waves (40–60 Hz) when focusing attention on a particular object or activity. [70] [71] [39] [72]

Another commonly used model for the attention system has been put forth by researchers such as Michael Posner. He divides attention into three functional components: alerting, orienting, and executive attention [51] [73] that can also interact and influence each other. [74] [75] [76]

  • Alerting is the process involved in becoming and staying attentive toward the surroundings. It appears to exist in the frontal and parietal lobes of the right hemisphere, and is modulated by norepinephrine. [77][78]
  • Orienting is the directing of attention to a specific stimulus.
  • Executive attention is used when there is a conflict between multiple attention cues. It is essentially the same as the central executive in Baddeley's model of working memory. The Eriksen flanker task has shown that the executive control of attention may take place in the anterior cingulate cortex[79]

Cultural variation Edit

Children appear to develop patterns of attention related to the cultural practices of their families, communities, and the institutions in which they participate. [80]

In 1955, Jules Henry suggested that there are societal differences in sensitivity to signals from many ongoing sources that call for the awareness of several levels of attention simultaneously. He tied his speculation to ethnographic observations of communities in which children are involved in a complex social community with multiple relationships. [6]

Many Indigenous children in the Americas predominantly learn by observing and pitching in. There are several studies to support that the use of keen attention towards learning is much more common in Indigenous Communities of North and Central America than in a middle-class European-American setting. [81] This is a direct result of the Learning by Observing and Pitching In model.

Keen attention is both a requirement and result of learning by observing and pitching-in. Incorporating the children in the community gives them the opportunity to keenly observe and contribute to activities that were not directed towards them. It can be seen from different Indigenous communities and cultures, such as the Mayans of San Pedro, that children can simultaneously attend to multiple events. [6] Most Maya children have learned to pay attention to several events at once in order to make useful observations. [82]

One example is simultaneous attention which involves uninterrupted attention to several activities occurring at the same time. Another cultural practice that may relate to simultaneous attention strategies is coordination within a group. San Pedro toddlers and caregivers frequently coordinated their activities with other members of a group in multiway engagements rather than in a dyadic fashion. [6] [34] Research concludes that children with close ties to Indigenous American roots have a high tendency to be especially keen observers. [35]

This learning by observing and pitching-in model requires active levels of attention management. The child is present while caretakers engage in daily activities and responsibilities such as: weaving, farming, and other skills necessary for survival. Being present allows the child to focus their attention on the actions being performed by their parents, elders, and/or older siblings. [81] In order to learn in this way, keen attention and focus is required. Eventually the child is expected to be able to perform these skills themselves.

Modelling Edit

In the domain of computer vision, efforts have been made to model the mechanism of human attention, especially the bottom-up intentional mechanism [83] and its semantic significance in classification of video contents. [84] [85] Both spatial attention and temporal attention have been incorporated in such classification efforts.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of models to mimic the bottom-up salience mechanism in static images. One way is based on the spatial contrast analysis. For example, a center–surround mechanism has been used to define salience across scales, inspired by the putative neural mechanism. [86] It has also been hypothesized that some visual inputs are intrinsically salient in certain background contexts and that these are actually task-independent. This model has established itself as the exemplar for salience detection and consistently used for comparison in the literature [83] the other way is based on the frequency domain analysis. This method was first proposed by Hou et al., [87] this method was called SR, and then PQFT method was also introduced. Both SR and PQFT only use the phase information. [83] In 2012, the HFT method was introduced, and both the amplitude and the phase information are made use of. [88] The Neural Abstraction Pyramid [89] is a hierarchical recurrent convolutional model, which incorporates bottom-up and top-down flow of information to iteratively interpret images.

Hemispatial neglect Edit

Hemispatial neglect, also called unilateral neglect, often occurs when people have damage to their right hemisphere. [90] This damage often leads to a tendency to ignore the left side of one's body or even the left side of an object that can be seen. Damage to the left side of the brain (the left hemisphere) rarely yields significant neglect of the right side of the body or object in the person's local environments. [91]

The effects of spatial neglect, however, may vary and differ depending on what area of the brain was damaged. Damage to different neural substrates can result in different types of neglect. Attention disorders (lateralized and nonlaterized) may also contribute to the symptoms and effects. [91] Much research has asserted that damage to gray matter within the brain results in spatial neglect. [92]

New technology has yielded more information, such that there is a large, distributed network of frontal, parietal, temporal, and subcortical brain areas that have been tied to neglect. [93] This network can be related to other research as well the dorsal attention network is tied to spatial orienting. [94] The effect of damage to this network may result in patients neglecting their left side when distracted about their right side or an object on their right side. [90]

Attention in social contexts Edit

Social attention is one special form of attention that involves the allocation of limited processing resources in a social context. Previous studies on social attention often regard how attention is directed toward socially relevant stimuli such as faces and gaze directions of other individuals. [95] In contrast to attending-to-others, a different line of researches has shown that self-related information such as own face and name automatically captures attention and is preferentially processed comparing to other-related information. [96] These contrasting effects between attending-to-others and attending-to-self prompt a synthetic view in a recent Opinion article [97] proposing that social attention operates at two polarizing states: In one extreme, individual tends to attend to the self and prioritize self-related information over others', and, in the other extreme, attention is allocated to other individuals to infer their intentions and desires. Attending-to-self and attending-to-others mark the two ends of an otherwise continuum spectrum of social attention. For a given behavioral context, the mechanisms underlying these two polarities might interact and compete with each other in order to determine a saliency map of social attention that guides our behaviors. [97] An imbalanced competition between these two behavioral and cognitive processes will cause cognitive disorders and neurological symptoms such as autism spectrum disorders and Williams syndrome.

Distracting factors Edit

According to Daniel Goleman's book, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, there are two types of distracting factors affecting focus – sensory and emotional. A sensory distracting factor would be, for example, while a person is reading this article, they are neglecting the white field surrounding the text. An emotional distracting factor would be when someone is focused on answering an email, and somebody shouts their name. It would be almost impossible to neglect the voice speaking it. Attention is immediately directed toward the source.

Failure to attend Edit

Inattentional blindness was first introduced in 1998 by Arien Mack and Irvic Rock. Their studies show that when people are focused on specific stimuli, they often miss other stimuli that are clearly present. Though actual blindness is not occurring here, the blindness that happens is due to the perceptual load of what is being attended too. [98] Based on the experiment performed by Mack and Rock, Ula Finch and Nilli Lavie tested participants with a perceptual task. They presented subjects with a cross, one arm being longer than the other, for 5 trials. On the sixth trial, a white square was added to the top left of the screen. The results conclude that out of 10 participants, only 2 (10%) actually saw the square. This would suggest that when a higher focus was attended to the length of the crossed arms, the more likely someone would altogether miss an object that was in plain sight. [99]

Change blindness was first tested by Rensink and coworkers in 1997. Their studies show that people have difficulty detecting changes from scene to scene due to the intense focus on one thing, or lack of attention overall. This was tested by Rensink through a presentation of a picture, and then a blank field, and then the same picture but with an item missing. The results showed that the pictures had to be alternated back and forth a good number of times for participants to notice the difference. This idea is greatly portrayed in films that have continuity errors. Many people do not pick up on differences when in reality, the changes tend to be significant. [100]

Philosophical period Edit

Psychologist Daniel E. Berlyne credits the first extended treatment of attention to philosopher Nicolas Malebranche in his work "The Search After Truth". "Malebranche held that we have access to ideas, or mental representations of the external world, but not direct access to the world itself." [7] Thus in order to keep these ideas organized, attention is necessary. Otherwise we will confuse these ideas. Malebranche writes in "The Search After Truth", "because it often happens that the understanding has only confused and imperfect perceptions of things, it is truly a cause of our errors. It is therefore necessary to look for means to keep our perceptions from being confused and imperfect. And, because, as everyone knows, there is nothing that makes them clearer and more distinct than attentiveness, we must try to find the means to become more attentive than we are". [101] According to Malebranche, attention is crucial to understanding and keeping thoughts organized.

Philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz introduced the concept of apperception to this philosophical approach to attention. Apperception refers to "the process by which new experience is assimilated to and transformed by the residuum of past experience of an individual to form a new whole." [102] Apperception is required for a perceived event to become a conscious event. Leibniz emphasized a reflexive involuntary view of attention known as exogenous orienting. However, there is also endogenous orienting which is voluntary and directed attention. Philosopher Johann Friedrich Herbart agreed with Leibniz's view of apperception however, he expounded on it in by saying that new experiences had to be tied to ones already existing in the mind. Herbart was also the first person to stress the importance of applying mathematical modeling to the study of psychology. [7]

Throughout the philosophical era, various thinkers made significant contributions to the field of attention studies, beginning with research on the extent of attention and how attention is directed. In the beginning of the 19th century, it was thought that people were not able to attend to more than one stimulus at a time. However, with research contributions by Sir William Hamilton, 9th Baronet this view was changed. Hamilton proposed a view of attention that likened its capacity to holding marbles. You can only hold a certain number of marbles at a time before it starts to spill over. His view states that we can attend to more than one stimulus at once. William Stanley Jevons later expanded this view and stated that we can attend to up to four items at a time. [103]

1860–1909 Edit

This period of attention research took the focus from conceptual findings to experimental testing. It also involved psychophysical methods that allowed measurement of the relation between physical stimulus properties and the psychological perceptions of them. This period covers the development of attentional research from the founding of psychology to 1909.

Wilhelm Wundt introduced the study of attention to the field of psychology. Wundt measured mental processing speed by likening it to differences in stargazing measurements. Astronomers in this time would measure the time it took for stars to travel. Among these measurements when astronomers recorded the times, there were personal differences in calculation. These different readings resulted in different reports from each astronomer. To correct for this, a personal equation was developed. Wundt applied this to mental processing speed. Wundt realized that the time it takes to see the stimulus of the star and write down the time was being called an "observation error" but actually was the time it takes to switch voluntarily one's attention from one stimulus to another. Wundt called his school of psychology voluntarism. It was his belief that psychological processes can only be understood in terms of goals and consequences.

Franciscus Donders used mental chronometry to study attention and it was considered a major field of intellectual inquiry by authors such as Sigmund Freud. Donders and his students conducted the first detailed investigations of the speed of mental processes. Donders measured the time required to identify a stimulus and to select a motor response. This was the time difference between stimulus discrimination and response initiation. Donders also formalized the subtractive method which states that the time for a particular process can be estimated by adding that process to a task and taking the difference in reaction time between the two tasks. He also differentiated between three types of reactions: simple reaction, choice reaction, and go/no-go reaction.

Hermann von Helmholtz also contributed to the field of attention relating to the extent of attention. Von Helmholtz stated that it is possible to focus on one stimulus and still perceive or ignore others. An example of this is being able to focus on the letter u in the word house and still perceiving the letters h, o, s, and e.

One major debate in this period was whether it was possible to attend to two things at once (split attention). Walter Benjamin described this experience as "reception in a state of distraction." This disagreement could only be resolved through experimentation.

Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German. [104]

James differentiated between censorial attention and intellectual attention. Censorial attention is when attention is directed to objects of sense, stimuli that are physically present. Intellectual attention is attention directed to ideal or represented objects stimuli that are not physically present. James also distinguished between immediate or derived attention: attention to the present versus to something not physically present. According to James, attention has five major effects. Attention works to make us perceive, conceive, distinguish, remember, and shorten reactions time.

1910–1949 Edit

During this period, research in attention waned and interest in behaviorism flourished, leading some to believe, like Ulric Neisser, that in this period, "There was no research on attention". However, Jersild published very important work on "Mental Set and Shift" in 1927. He stated, "The fact of mental set is primary in all conscious activity. The same stimulus may evoke any one of a large number of responses depending upon the contextual setting in which it is placed". [105] This research found that the time to complete a list was longer for mixed lists than for pure lists. For example, if a list was names of animals versus a list of the same size with names of animals, books, makes and models of cars, and types of fruits, it takes longer to process the second list. This is task switching.

In 1931, Telford discovered the psychological refractory period. The stimulation of neurons is followed by a refractory phase during which neurons are less sensitive to stimulation. In 1935 John Ridley Stroop developed the Stroop Task which elicited the Stroop Effect. Stroop's task showed that irrelevant stimulus information can have a major impact on performance. In this task, subjects were to look at a list of colors. This list of colors had each color typed in a color different from the actual text. For example, the word Blue would be typed in Orange, Pink in Black, and so on.

Example: Blue Purple Red Green Purple Green

Subjects were then instructed to say the name of the ink color and ignore the text. It took 110 seconds to complete a list of this type compared to 63 seconds to name the colors when presented in the form of solid squares. [7] The naming time nearly doubled in the presence of conflicting color words, an effect known as the Stroop Effect.

1950–1974 Edit

In the 1950s, research psychologists renewed their interest in attention when the dominant epistemology shifted from positivism (i.e., behaviorism) to realism during what has come to be known as the "cognitive revolution". [106] The cognitive revolution admitted unobservable cognitive processes like attention as legitimate objects of scientific study.

Modern research on attention began with the analysis of the "cocktail party problem" by Colin Cherry in 1953. At a cocktail party how do people select the conversation that they are listening to and ignore the rest? This problem is at times called "focused attention", as opposed to "divided attention". Cherry performed a number of experiments which became known as dichotic listening and were extended by Donald Broadbent and others. [107] : 112 In a typical experiment, subjects would use a set of headphones to listen to two streams of words in different ears and selectively attend to one stream. After the task, the experimenter would question the subjects about the content of the unattended stream.

Broadbent's Filter Model of Attention states that information is held in a pre-attentive temporary store, and only sensory events that have some physical feature in common are selected to pass into the limited capacity processing system. This implies that the meaning of unattended messages is not identified. Also, a significant amount of time is required to shift the filter from one channel to another. Experiments by Gray and Wedderburn and later Anne Treisman pointed out various problems in Broadbent's early model and eventually led to the Deutsch–Norman model in 1968. In this model, no signal is filtered out, but all are processed to the point of activating their stored representations in memory. The point at which attention becomes "selective" is when one of the memory representations is selected for further processing. At any time, only one can be selected, resulting in the attentional bottleneck. [107] : 115–116

This debate became known as the early-selection vs. late-selection models. In the early selection models (first proposed by Donald Broadbent), attention shuts down (in Broadbent's model) or attenuates (in Triesman's refinement) processing in the unattended ear before the mind can analyze its semantic content. In the late selection models (first proposed by J. Anthony Deutsch and Diana Deutsch), the content in both ears is analyzed semantically, but the words in the unattended ear cannot access consciousness. [108] Lavie's perceptual load theory, however, "provided elegant solution to" what had once been a "heated debate". [109]


Daniel Kahneman: Your happiness depends heavily on your memory

According to Kahneman, a behavioral economist, every individual is divided into an experiencing self and a remembering self. The differences between these two selves are critical to our understanding of human happiness.

To illustrate this idea, Kahneman refers to an experiment in which two groups of patients underwent a colonoscopy. The group that experienced the peak of their pain at the end said they suffered more — even when their procedure was shorter. Kahneman says that the second group's experiencing selves suffered less, but their remembering selves suffered more.

The remembering self, Kahneman says, is the one that makes decisions, like which colonoscopy surgeon to choose the next time around. "We actually don't choose between experiences, we choose between memories of experiences." Even when we contemplate the future, Kahneman says, "we think of our future as anticipated memories."

Bottom line: What makes you happy in the immediate present won't necessarily make you happy when you reflect on your life overall — and it's important to consider that idea the next time you're making a big decision.


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The subject of his initial research was not sexy and quite distant from the happiness debate. The study documented, in real time, patients’ degree of suffering during a colonoscopy (it was a painful procedure at the time, unlike today).

It turned out there was no connection between the length of the procedure and level of pain a patient experienced and described at the time, and the extent of trauma he recalled afterward. The memory was based primarily on whether the pain increased or decreased toward the end of the procedure. The stronger the pain in the final stage of the procedure, the more traumatic it became in the patient’s memory – with no connection to the question of how much pain he actually experienced during it.

Positive experiences are processed similarly. In a 2010 lecture, Kahneman related the story of a man who told him about listening to a symphony he loved, “absolutely glorious music.” But at the end there was a “dreadful screeching sound” that, the man said, ruined the whole experience for him.

But as Kahneman pointed out, it hadn’t actually destroyed the experience, because the man enjoyed the music at the time. Rather, it ruined his memory of the experience, which is something completely different.

“We live and experience many moments, but most of them are not preserved,” Kahneman said. “They are lost forever. Our memory collects certain parts of what happened to us and processes them into a story. We make most of our decisions based on the story told by our memory.

“For example, a vacation – we don’t remember, or experience, the entire time we spent on vacation, but only the impressions preserved in our memory, the photographs and the documentation. Moreover, we usually choose the next vacation not as an experience but as a future memory. If prior to the decision about our next vacation we assume that at the end all the photos will be erased, and we’ll be given a drug that will also erase our memory, it’s quite possible that we’ll choose a different vacation from the one that we actually choose.”

A very vague concept

Kahneman’s studies of “What I experience” versus “What I remember” are what led him to get involved in the study of happiness.

“I put together a group of researchers, including an economist whom I viewed as both a partner in the group and its principal client,” he told me when we met earlier this year. “We wanted to figure out what factors affect happiness and to try to work to change conditions and policies accordingly. Economists have more influence on policy.

“The group developed a model known as DRM, or Day Reconstruction Method – a fairly successful method of reconstructing experiences throughout the day. It gives results similar to those of ‘What I experience’ and is easier to do.”

It turns out there are significant differences between the narrative that we remember and tell, and the feelings of day-to-day happiness we experience at the time – to the point that Kahneman believes the general term “happiness” is too vague and can’t be applied to both.

He views “happiness” as the feeling of enjoyment a person experiences here and now – for instance, two weeks of relaxation on the beach, or an enjoyable conversation with an interesting person. What is described as happiness in the “What I remember” is something Kahneman prefers to call – as he did more than once in his series of studies – “satisfaction” or “life satisfaction.”

Amir Mandel speaking with Daniel Kahneman, March 2018. What did I consider more important about our meeting? My enjoyment of the meeting or the photo? Moti Milrod

“Life satisfaction is connected to a large degree to social yardsticks – achieving goals, meeting expectations,” he explained. “It’s based on comparisons with other people.

“For instance, with regard to money, life satisfaction rises in direct proportion to how much you have. In contrast, happiness is affected by money only when it’s lacking. Poverty can buy a lot of suffering, but above the level of income that satisfies basic needs, happiness, as I define it, doesn’t increase with wealth. The graph is surprisingly flat.

“Economist Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize laureate for 2015, was also involved in these conclusions. Happiness in this sense depends, to a large extent, on genetics – on a natural ability to be happy. It’s also connected to a genetic disposition to optimism. They are apparently the same genes.

“To the degree that outside factors affect this aspect of happiness,” he continued, “they’re related solely to people: We’re happy in the company of people we like, especially friends – more so than with partners. Children can cause great happiness, at certain moments.”

‘I was miserable’

At about the same time as these studies were being conducted, the Gallup polling company (which has a relationship with Princeton) began surveying various indicators among the global population. Kahneman was appointed as a consultant to the project.

“I suggested including measures of happiness, as I understand it – happiness in real time. To these were added data from Bhutan, a country that measures its citizens’ happiness as an indicator of the government’s success. And gradually, what we know today as Gallup’s World Happiness Report developed. It has also been adopted by the UN and OECD countries, and is published as an annual report on the state of global happiness.

“A third development, which is very important in my view, was a series of lectures I gave at the London School of Economics in which I presented my findings about happiness. The audience included Prof. Richard Layard – a teacher at the school, a British economist and a member of the House of Lords – who was interested in the subject. Eventually, he wrote a book about the factors that influence happiness, which became a hit in Britain,” Kahneman said, referring to “Happiness: Lessons from a New Science.”

“Layard did important work on community issues, on improving mental health services – and his driving motivation was promoting happiness. He instilled the idea of happiness as a factor in the British government’s economic considerations.

“The involvement of economists like Layard and Deaton made this issue more respectable,” Kahneman added with a smile. “Psychologists aren’t listened to so much. But when economists get involved, everything becomes more serious, and research on happiness gradually caught the attention of policy-making organizations.

“At the same time,” said Kahneman, “a movement has also developed in psychology – positive psychology – that focuses on happiness and attributes great importance to internal questions like meaning. I’m less certain of that.

Tourists in New York posing near a homeless man. "In general, if you want to reduce suffering, mental health is a good place to start," says Kahneman. Reuters

“People connect happiness primarily to the company of others. I recall a conversation with Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology, in which he tried to convince me I had a meaningful life. I insisted – and I still think this today – that I had an interesting life. ‘Meaningful’ isn’t something I understand. I’m a lucky person and also fairly happy – mainly because, for most of my life, I’ve worked with people whose company I enjoyed.”

Then, referring to his 2011 best-seller “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” he added, “There were four years when I worked alone on a book. That was terrible, and I was miserable.”

Despite Kahneman’s reservations, trends in positive psychology have come to dominate the science of happiness. One of the field’s most prominent representatives is Prof. Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught the most popular course in Harvard’s history (in spring 2006), on happiness and leadership.

Following in his footsteps, lecturers at Yale developed a course on happiness that attracted masses of students and overshadowed every other course offered at the prestigious university.

“In positive psychology, it seems to me they’re trying to convince people to be happy without making any changes in their situation,” said Kahneman, skeptically. “To learn to be happy. That fits well with political conservatism.”

I pointed out to Kahneman that Buddhism – including Tibetan Buddhism’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, which whom he is in contact – also places great emphasis on changing a person’s inner spiritual state. “That’s true to a large extent,” he agreed, “but in a different way, in my opinion. Buddhism has a different social worldview.

“But in any case, I confess that I participated in a meeting with the Dalai Lama at MIT, and some of his people were there – including one of his senior people, who lives in Paris and serves as his contact person and translator in France. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from this man. He radiated. He had such inner peace and such a sense of happiness, and I’m absolutely not cynical enough to overlook it.”

Tending to mental health

Kahneman studied happiness for over two decades, gave rousing lectures and, thanks to his status, contributed to putting the issue on the agenda of both countries and organizations, principally the UN and the OECD. Five years ago, though, he abandoned this line of research.

Two French women laughing at a cafe in Paris, April 2017. "We’re happy in the company of people we like, especially friends," says Kahneman. Bloomberg

“I gradually became convinced that people don’t want to be happy,” he explained. “They want to be satisfied with their life.”

A bit stunned, I asked him to repeat that statement. “People don’t want to be happy the way I’ve defined the term – what I experience here and now. In my view, it’s much more important for them to be satisfied, to experience life satisfaction, from the perspective of ‘What I remember,’ of the story they tell about their lives. I furthered the development of tools for understanding and advancing an asset that I think is important but most people aren’t interested in.

“Meanwhile, awareness of happiness has progressed in the world, including annual happiness indexes. It seems to me that on this basis, what can confidently be advanced is a reduction of suffering. The question of whether society should intervene so that people will be happier is very controversial, but whether society should strive for people to suffer less – that’s widely accepted.

“Much of Layard’s activity on behalf of happiness in England related to bolstering the mental health system. In general, if you want to reduce suffering, mental health is a good place to start – because the extent of illness is enormous and the intensity of the distress doesn’t allow for any talk of happiness. We also need to talk about poverty and about improving the workplace environment, where many people are abused.”

My interview with Kahneman took place as I started working on the Haaretz series of articles “The Secret of Happiness,” and was initially meant to conclude it. It was the key to the entire series. It’s interesting that Kahneman, one of the leading symbols of happiness research, eventually became dubious and quit, while proposing that we primarily address causes of suffering.

The “secret of happiness” hasn’t been deciphered. Even the term’s definition remains vague. Genetics and luck play an important role in it.

Nevertheless, a few insights that emerged from the series have stayed with me: I’m amazed by Layard’s activity. I was impressed by the tranquility of the Buddhist worldview and the practices that accompany it. Personally, I’ve chosen to practice meditation with a technique adapted to people from Western cultures.

I learned to collect experiences and not necessarily memories, which can be disputed. I don’t mind sitting for three hours in a Paris café or spending a day wandering through the streets of Berlin, without noting a single monument or having a single incident that I could recount. I gave up on income to do what I enjoy – like, for instance, writing about happiness and music.

Above all, it has become clear that our best hours are spent in the company of people we like. With this resource, it pays to be generous.


Forensic psychology in the dock

This book is clearly intended to be provocative and accessible to a wide readership. The title and style suggest an attempt to be seen in the tradition of publications such as Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science (2008, Fourth Estate). Its central argument is that forensic psychology (prisons and the Parole Board, at any rate) is dominated by procedures for assessing and reducing risk of reoffending that have little or no empirical foundation. It is further argued that the whole enterprise is driven by political and organisational imperatives and maintained by the fallibility of human judgement, inadequate training and defensiveness. Alleged consequences include wasting taxpayers’ money on a grand scale and the injustice of unnecessarily prolonged incarceration. It is recommended that psychologists should not muddy the waters of reliability and validity by the exercise of personal judgement and there should be no straying from procedures supported by rigorous evaluation. One implication is that cognitive-behavioural programmes for addressing complex offence-related behaviour should be abandoned.

Numerous personal anecdotes lean rather heavily on the trope of the voice of reason standing against bureaucracy and vested interests. Resentful reviewers may be tempted to reciprocate by drawing parallels with Robert Martinson (1974), who damaged the field of rehabilitation before publishing a retraction, or even with the author’s near namesake who shot the outlaw Jesse James in the back I mention these so they don’t have to. Examining where the author may have succumbed to the very heuristics and biases that he criticises in others could be a more productive venture. I hope none of this distracts from the better justified points concerning shortcomings in vision and implementation within the field over the last couple of decades and the Kafkaesque logic that has sometimes attended them. Ultimately, though, I found this book to be disappointing in several respects.

Initially I was intrigued by the author’s conversational style and uncompromising approach towards a questionable orthodoxy that in many ways has been both limited and limiting. To clarify my own direction of travel, I am amongst those who have questioned (e.g. Needs, 2016 Needs & Adair-Stantiall, 2018). As I read on, I became increasingly uneasy at the lack of coverage of existing critiques (there have been many) and this mounted as it became apparent that limited acknowledgement of prior work extends to other key areas (such as the relevance of heuristics and biases). However, it was when I reached the sweeping assertions regarding interventions that I was particularly dismayed by the less than comprehensive use of evidence. I have never been a conventional advocate or apologist for what the author terms the ‘offending behaviour industry’ and to say that the area has a chequered history is an understatement. Nonetheless, we owe it to the reader and the future development of the field to be as accurate and fair as possible. There really is no space to debate this here, but the interested reader could do worse than start with the recent ‘review of reviews’ by Weisburd et al. (2017) and work backwards.

Such considerations caused me to wonder again about the nature of the intended readership. The style is not that of an academic publication but the overuse in places of footnotes sits rather uneasily with a popular work. Also, being a non-specialist is unlikely to confer immunity from the cumulative effects of repetition and occasional sentences that reminded me of the editorials of certain non-broadsheet newspapers. I would not expect everyone to share my frustration at processes involved in life events being reduced to regression to the mean, or developments in improving custodial environments by social means being ignored in favour of token economies and proposals for something that sounds rather like the existing Incentives and Earned Privileges system. Even a prisoner not averse to endorsing a publication that purports to discredit an influential part of the system that holds sway over his life might be confused at this point. In fact I found the pages on future directions the most disappointing of all.

In terms of the evolution of the field the author’s failure to represent important aspects of past, current, emerging or potential practice and associated research could do more harm than the criticisms around which the book is based. If forensic psychology needs to ‘return’ to science, I would urge that there needs to be a debate within forensic psychology about how science is understood and practised. For example, it has been suggested that neglect of context and process can make even randomised controlled trials ‘effectively useless’ (Byrne, 2013). Similarly, failure to think in terms of the dynamics of systems at every level can hamstring the ability of psychologists to engage with them in a productive manner.

If we attempt to locate science precisely where Dr Forde says we left it, we might find that it has moved on.

- Reviewed by Dr Adrian Needs, Principal Lecturer at the University of Portsmouth and Registered Forensic Psychologist


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Whether you are a psychology student or somebody interested in human behavior, you will delight in this listing of the greatest psychology novels of all-time.


Psychology and hybrid working

Similar studies had shown decision-making to be similarly random in other spheres, said Kahneman. Physicians tended to give different kinds of decisions when presented with the same symptoms at different times of day, with more antibiotics being prescribed in the afternoon. Temperature also affected decision-making with judges passing more severe sentences on hot days. He described this variability, or noise, as “unacceptable” and something businesses needed to tackle as they reset after lockdown. Like bias, it led to unnecessary errors.

One of the reasons why noise was so prevalent in organisations was because the amount of agreement in meetings was “much too high” because of the pressure for conformity from the leader or the person who speaks first or most confidently. As a result, decisions in meetings often did not “reflect the true diversity of opinion around the table”. Instead, people should be invited to share their own judgments prior to meetings “so people are aware of the amount of noise that they must bridge to reach a consensual decision”.

Recruitment was “really troubled” by noise, said Kahneman. A single person making decisions about candidates was usually convinced they were making the right decision, because they were unaware of noise, he said. When you have multiple people making the hiring decision it was vital to have independence. Independence was key if you wanted to gauge authentic judgments and opinions free of external influences. Both noise (variable error) and bias (an average bias) contributed equally to inaccurate decisions, he added.

Algorithms and simple rules were noise free, said the professor. If they were unbiased, using algorithms would improve decision-making, he said. “When algorithms are biased it is somebody’s fault …the person who made them. But they should be noise-free. Algorthmic bias is attracting a lot of attention but people in many ways were even more biased. People are both biased and noisy,” he told the programme.

We’ve fooled ourselves that business is all about numbers, balance sheets and data sets” – Gillian Tett, FT journalist

Listening to Kahneman was Ann Cairns, executive vice chair of Mastercard. She said that “noise” had led to far too few women being appointed to senior positions. Simply by maintaining independence from the hiring decision-making process and asking HR managers why so few women were being recruited or promoted and requesting that they reflect on their own thought processes she was able to reflect positive change.

Author of new book Anthro Vision and US managing editor of the FT Gillian Tett was also involved in the discussion. She described the return to the office as “an extraordinary opportunity to rethink our assumptions and notice things we never noticed before”. Citing the Chinese proverb “fish can’t see water”, Tett told BBC Radio 4 today that anthropology offered methods of improving decision-making and of avoiding the mistakes of the past. “Lockdown has shaken up everything,” she said, adding that office workers would “feel like Martians landing on Earth for the first time. “Look around you and try to see the things that you didn’t used to talk about,” she said.

A trained anthropologist herself, Tett explained how attending a financiers’ conference in France 15 years ago was analogous to attending a wedding ritual among tribal peoples in Tajikstan. She said: “You have a tribe of bankers using rituals and symbols to reinforce their world view and their social networks. The problem comes when the unstated assumptions take over and prevent people from seeing what’s hidden in plain sight.”

The “problem” in this case was the global financial crash of 2008, which Tett was one of few to correctly predict.

“Anthropology makes the familiar look strange and the unfamiliar look familiar,” she said. She noted how Kit Kat sales in Japan had surged for reasons unknown to manufacturer Nestlé. It transpired that students were using Kit Kats as a good luck symbol in exams. “People were interpreting Kit Kats in different ways.” Such findings had led to organisations now using anthropologists to analyse themselves and global markets.

Tett said that as people returned to offices it would be wise for leaders to reflect on the nature of meetings. Some people thought meetings were called merely to rubber stamp decisions, she said, others thought they were for forming a consensus. At General Motors an anthropologist was brought in to find out why teams were not agreeing on progress about a new car design. “It was because the three groups involved each had a different view of what meetings were for,” she said.

“We’ve fooled ourselves that business is all about numbers, balance sheets and data sets,” Tett added. “We ignore what the word ‘company means’. We all assume ourselves as rational with individual agency and linear thoughts. But our choices are affected by the people are around us and a much wider context that we don’t always see. Fish can’t see water.” She warned that as people became re-immersed in the company culture back in the office that wider context which may have appeared more visible during lockdown would be ignored.


Special Considerations

According to Tversky and Kahneman, the certainty effect is exhibited when people prefer certain outcomes and underweight outcomes that are only probable. The certainty effect leads to individuals avoiding risk when there is a prospect of a sure gain. It also contributes to individuals seeking risk when one of their options is a sure loss.

The isolation effect occurs when people have presented two options with the same outcome, but different routes to the outcome. In this case, people are likely to cancel out similar information to lighten the cognitive load, and their conclusions will vary depending on how the options are framed.


Exploiting a reasonable practice (or, the tragedy of the epistemic commons)

More than ever, we have no choice but to believe many things on the basis of (expert) testimony. We typically accept testimony from others, all else equal. Especially when peripheral cues give the green light.

However, as we just saw, it’s also easier than ever to abuse the current conditions and mine vulnerabilities of the many-media, many-experts world to sneak past our defenses.

People who put on the garb of experts and abuse our trust exploit gaps in otherwise reasonable norms of information processing.

They operate as a kind of social parasite on our unavoidable vulnerability, taking advantage of our epistemic condition and social dependency.


The consequences of distinction bias

Not being aware of the distinction bias can lead us to make very bad decisions in life. It can make us believe, for example, that we will be happier if we buy a 400 square feet house than a 200 square feet house.

The problem is that when we analyze two options simultaneously, we look for a common factor that serves as a standard for comparison. The distinction bias appears when we take into account a single variable and this is not even that important for later experience.

Imagine, for example, that we must choose between a monotonous job in which we will earn 80,000 $ a year or a more challenging position in which we will earn 60,000 $. With an eye on our happiness, we can focus on analyzing all the things that we could buy with those 20,000 $ more and that would make us happier.

However, we overlook the fact that spending 8 hours each day in a monotonous job could create such boredom and frustration that it is not offset by the little happiness that the extra money can bring.

The distinction bias also sets us another trap: it leads us to always want more. But that, far from being rewarding or making us happy, can generate more stress.

If we believe that we will be happier in a larger house, with a higher quality television or a more modern mobile, we will have to work harder to achieve it, which could lead us to sacrifice our happiness in the here and now, in pursuit of an option that really it is neither more satisfying nor more rewarding.


Watch the video: Η Αθήνα είναι ένας ελληνικός τρόπος ζωής. Είναι εύκολο να ζεις εδώ; Και φυσικά τα αξιοθέατα (July 2022).


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