Selective Attention Is a Real Thing and It Will Surprise You

Before we go any further, watch this video: 

It may surprise you to learn that humans have an 8-second attention span. That’s less than the attention span of a goldfish! It’s so bad that even the NBA has considered shortening games due to the shortening attention spans of the audience. What’s even scarier is that we also have “selective attention” — the process of focusing on a particular object for a certain period of time. Attention is a limited resource, so selective attention allows us to tune out unimportant details and focus on what matters. As you saw from the video, we can be so focused on a specific task that we miss what’s right in front of our eyes. Harvard University used the above video in an experiment several years ago and found that half of the people who watched it counted the passes but missed the gorilla. It was as though the gorilla was invisible. What that tells us is that we’re missing a lot of what goes on around us, and we have no idea just how much we’re missing. Inattentional blindness does have an upside. Our ability to ignore distractions around us allows us to retain our focus. Just don’t expect your spouse to be charitably disposed when your focus on the television renders her or him invisible.