Interesting Discoveries About the Brain (5)


Our ability to focus is invaluable. It helps us to understand, to problem solve, even to invent.  However, like everything else, it has its downside.  This focusing ability – known as the attentional spotlight – is one of the quirks magicians exploit in their craft. In ordinary life, over use of our focus can result in what is known as change blindness, which causes us to miss important changes in our environment.

If You’ve Got it – Use it

An unusual way to productively use our attentional spotlight is recommended by neuroscientist Susana Martinez-Conde.

The concept of the spotlight of attention is something that we use, both in neuroscience and that magicians use in their art.  They actually both refer to the same thing: that when we focus our attention on something, that part of the visual scene gets enhanced and becomes more salient, and everything else around it gets suppressed, at the same time.  Now, this is a concept that is relatively novel in neuroscience, but, as it often happens, magicians knew about it for a very long time.

This is important from a neuroscience perspective, but it also has a very real application for life; and it’s in the field of decision-making.  So, when we are faced with having to make a complex decision—whether you should hire or fire somebody, or accept a job offer, or marry this person—there are often very many different factors, some of which seem very rational, and others are more like gut feelings.  And it’s often hard to know which facts to go with … the recommendation that we make in Sleights of Mind is that you simply make a list of all the facts—both the rational facts and the intuitions; all of them, no matter how small or how trivial they may seem at first sight—and then what you need to do is, one by one, focus your attention on one specific fact.  Just for a couple of minutes at a time, concentrate on that piece of information; then move down the list, and so on.  And your attentional spotlight will naturally enhance that fact and suppress everything else that may be a distraction.  When you reach the end of the list you will have the fullest picture you can have, and be able to make the most informed decision. (1)

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(1) Brain Science Podcast interview with the authors of the authors of, Sleights of Mind – What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions, -here –  – http://hw.libsyn.com/p/e/a/2/ea20634f6bd901d4/72-bsp-Macknik.mp3?sid=92cf3b85a28c468e5f461eb6fdf54ccf&l_sid=18369&l_eid=&l_mid=2392970

http://www.spring.org.uk/2009/03/the-attentional-spotlight.php

8 Comments

  1. I love that process of decision making. I do something similar:

    I hold each option in my mind and examine how my gut feels. If it feels calm, I keep that option as a possible choice. If I begin to feel agitated and ill at ease . . . I know that is not a good choice for me at the moment.

  2. I love that process of decision making. I do something similar:

    I hold each option in my mind and examine how my gut feels. If it feels calm, I keep that option as a possible choice. If I begin to feel agitated and ill at ease . . . I know that is not a good choice for me at the moment.

  3. Inattentional blindness and Change blindness is a double edged sword. At time a blessing and other times a curse.
    There’s nice episode of Dateline NBC I posted on my blog when I wrote about this topic. It’s amazing how we miss things right in front of our eyes!
    http://humanmanner.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/inattentional-blindness-and-change-blindness/

    • Great video – thanks. I agree about the double-edged sword but overall figure as long as we are aware of the fact that we often miss important information we will be more careful whenever the stakes are high!

  4. Inattentional blindness and Change blindness is a double edged sword. At time a blessing and other times a curse.
    There’s nice episode of Dateline NBC I posted on my blog when I wrote about this topic. It’s amazing how we miss things right in front of our eyes!
    http://humanmanner.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/inattentional-blindness-and-change-blindness/

    • Great video – thanks. I agree about the double-edged sword but overall figure as long as we are aware of the fact that we often miss important information we will be more careful whenever the stakes are high!

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