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Types of Attention

Khan Academy | 6:44


Alright, I'm going to start out with a challenge for you, I'm going to show you a series of shapes. And I want you to count the number of yellow stars that you see. also count the number of red x's that pop up on the screen. So that's two separate numbers, one for how many yellow stars you see, and one for how many red X's come up on the screen. 

Alright, so that was probably a challenging task, because you had to count two different things. And I kept talking to you while you were trying to do that. That's an example of divided attention, which we'll talk about in just a second. But first, you probably want to see how you did. So let me show you everything that you just saw. All right. This is everything that popped up on your screen, there were 15, yellow stars, and 13, red x's. And also, one smiley face. Don't worry if you didn't see this guy. We'll talk about that later.

But now that you have a good example of how limited a resource Your attention is, let's talk more about it. When you're paying attention to something, that means that you're concentrating on it at the exclusion of the other stimuli in the environment. A lot of times though, we try to divide our attention and do multiple things at once. 

So maybe watch TV while studying or try to count yellow stars while trying to count red X's. The thing is, as you just saw, attention is a limited resource. And we can't split it all that well when it comes to complicated stimuli. So if you're trying to do two things at once, usually end up switching between those tasks rather than doing them simultaneously. Even if you're switching so fast, you can barely tell. So think back to when you had to count the yellow stars and the red x's, you couldn't really do that at the same time, you had to kind of flip back and forth.

When you switch, or if you do just intend to focus on one thing at a time you're exercising you're selective attention. You can think of selective attention like a flashlight beam on some aspect of your environment, you can move the flashlight around depending on what you want to focus on. But at any given moment, it's illuminating one particular area of interest, and everything else is just kind of dimmer. So the question is what causes your flashlight beam to swing around and focus on one thing or another. 

There are two types of cues that can direct our attention. exogenous and endogenous, or exogenous cues are external to any goals we might have. Meaning we don't have to tell ourselves to look for them in order for them to capture our attention. They include things like bright colors, or loud noises. Because you can be in the middle of a gripping conversation and have every intention on focusing on it. But a loud noise will still cause your focus to shift. And with salient visual cues, so ones that really stand out. This is called the pop out effect. Something just pops out at us like a yellow circle amidst a bunch of green circles. 

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