Selective Attention: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 Selective Attention Defined
  • 0:44 How Does Selective…
  • 1:57 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Chevette Alston

Dr. Alston has taught intro psychology, child psychology, and developmental psychology at 2-year and 4-year schools.

This lesson describes the phenomenon of selective attention, something you employ in your everyday interactions that helps you decide what gets your focus and what gets ignored.

Selective Attention Defined

Selective attention is simply the act of focusing on a particular object for a period of time while simultaneously ignoring irrelevant information that is also occurring. This occurs on a daily basis and can be seen in basically any of your interactions. Because it is impossible to give attention to every stimulus in our environment, we use selective attention to select what stimuli are important as events occur.

The degree of selective attention one can apply to a situation varies depending on the person and their ability to focus or concentrate; it's also affected by distractions in the environment. Selective attention may be a conscious effort, but it can occur subconsciously as well.

How Does Selective Attention Work?

Some studies reveal that selective attention is the result of the mind working to store memories. Because one's working memory can only hold a limited amount of information, we often have to filter out unnecessary information. People are often attuned to give attention to what appeals to our senses or to what is familiar. For example, when you are hungry, you are more likely to give attention to the smell of roast chicken cooking rather than the sound of the phone ringing. This is especially so if chicken is one of your favorite foods!

With this in mind, selective attention can also be used to purposely draw attention to an object or person. Many marketing agencies think of clever ways to draw a person's selective attention by using colors, sounds, and even tastes. Have you ever noticed some restaurants or stores offer free food samples around lunchtime? This is when you're most likely to be hungry and more likely to find the taste of the food sample appealing. In this scenario, the characteristics of the food's sight, smell, and taste are allowed to filter through, while the noise or activity of the shopping crowd around you are ignored.

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