What grabs Attention: The Psychology Behind it!

Attention and What Draws Our Attention?

In a world where the eyes are exposed to numerous information in the environment, the eyes can not help but only selects what they pay attention to at a time.

For instance, a walk in campus, the eyes may notice that there are other students walking around, the breezing of the trees, the brown baby squirrel that has just ran by, or the new sign on the building wall, but the eyes may have ignored the face of a friend in the distance or that there is a puddle of mud in front. This is further not limited to the eyes as well, but to other senses such as hearing. Though the eyes may have not seen the familiar face, the ears hears the friend shouting out loud your name.

In this post, I talk about what attention is, the basic model, distinguish between top down and bottom up attention, and illustrate how knowledge and expectancy affect it.

What is attention?

In cognition, attention is how the brain selects and attends to certain information while ignoring others. Recall that in “Exclusive Procrastination Article”, I’ve talked about how attention affects procrastination. The more attentive one is to the tasks, the less likely one is to procrastinate. They are ideas of equivalence; attention is the ability to choose what one focuses to during a particular time.

What is the basic model?

When there is a process, there is a model. A model explains how something works in most simplify way as possible. The model of attention says that the human is exposed to infinite number of information in the environment and inside the body (i.e. a stomach-ache). And what happens is we select for what we choose to attend to. Hence, selection is an active process. And what we attend to affects thoughts, perception, and maybe behavior.

What is this top-down or bottom-up process?

Top down attention is conscious, willful decisions about what we select for. For example, when we choose to listen to what the professor is saying in lecture or reading the text message from a friend on the phone.

Bottom up attention is automatic or reflexive selection responses outside of conscious control. Recall the Threat Response I’ve talked about in “How Visual Information Triggers Emotion“, bottom up attention works similarly. Bottom up attention works by operating outside of conscious control and facilitates survival.

The bottom-up attention is affected by what grabs our attention even if we try to avoid it. Research shows that “Pain, Flashing or moving objects, or threatening things” are most likely to activate bottom-up. Pain such as stepping on a sharp rock at a beach, moving objects such as a car in the street, and threatening objects such as a snake in the park.

What affects selection?

Knowledge and expectancy. Knowledge such as the unique design of a soccer ball might draw attention to the ball as well as what is going on in a picture of soccer such as “this“. Knowledge affects what we attend to.

Expectancy, being aware of what we want to see, grabs attention when there is a surprise. For instance when looking at the moon over the ocean picture of this post, one notices that there is something unusual about it. That is we don’t expect to see something like that, but because we do, it captivates attention to try and figure out what is going on.

In summary, attention is the cognitive process by which we select information in the external or internal world that we choose to attend to. The basic model holds that selection affects thoughts, perceptions and maybe behaviors. The top-down attention concerns information that are willfully selected for whereas bottom-up is automatic or reflexive for information that concerns survival. Knowledge and expectancy affects attention by controlling what we choose to pay attention to and hence controls selection.

© 2011 by Psychology2010.tumblr.com


Exclusive Read on the Causes of Procrastination from Psychology2010.tumblr.com blog

In the following study guild, I talk about procrastination. What it is, the effects, the causes, and the solutions to overcome it. This study guild combines research findings from academic articles and personal knowledge about psychology. No where else can you find an article better explained about procrastination. The purpose is to provide readers with comprehensive explanations about procrastination.

What is procrastination?

To keep it simple, procrastination is the delaying of tasks that require immediate attention. An instance of this for school is when projects or preparation for a test are left until the night before.

What are the effects of procrastination?

The effects of procrastination are maladaptive to productivity and quality performance. Procrastination produces anxiety and poor work performance. Without procrastination, a lot more goals can be accomplished.

Why does procrastination occur?

From the behavioral perspective, procrastination is learnt. It occurs through repeated reinforcement. Tasks produce anxiety. When procrastination occurs, the human leaves the task and focus on one that produces less anxiety. This leads to comfort. This comfort becomes the reinforcement. This behavior repeats until it becomes a habit. Once the habit is fixated and affects many aspects of life, it becomes a behavioral disorder.

What causes procrastination?

The causes of procrastination can be divided into environment or biology. Environment refers to the surrounding conditions while biology the genes. Both environment and biology interacts. This results in complex relationships between environment and gene known as epigenesis.

How does biology affect procrastination?

Biology are rooted in the genes. From early point in birth, chromosomal genes are inherited from our parents who inherit their from theirs. Genes are rooted in our ancestry and have evolved and are passed on to us. Genes affect personality, self-esteem, and physiology. They all of which are factors that leads to procrastination.

Biological Cause 1Personality

Personality defines who we are. This includes our genetic make up. They are the Big Five traits: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. Of these Big Five traits, conscientiousness controls tasks persistency while openness intellect, creativity, and willingness to learn. Because people score differently on these traits, with some being higher or lower on conscientiousness, they are affected by procrastination varyingly.

Conscientiousness controls persistency. Therefore, the more conscientious an individual is the more likely one continues to work on a hard task.

Openness controls intellect, creativity and willingness to learn. Therefore, the more opened an individual is, the more likely one is to want feedback on how to improve. Open people are more likely to see flaws in their personality and actions and learn from them.

Hence, scoring high on conscientiousness or openness is likely to produce a person who procrastinates less.

Biological Cause 2– Self-esteem

Self-esteem is the perception of one self when compared to the ideal self. One feels more accepting if his current self matches his ideal self. If ideal self is too far away from the current self, the individual experiences low self-esteem.

Low self-esteem deprives confidence. This confidence then affects task performance, because it affects how one feel towards one’s own work skills and ability to change. Thus, someone high in self-esteem is more likely to feel positive towards self, have more confidence, and think that one can excel. Thinking so one will.

Biological Cause 3 – Physiology and the Brain

Procrastination is linked to attentiveness, level of impulsivity, and planning. All of which are linked to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Individuals damaged here will procrastinate.

Hence, let’s take a look at each one and how each affects procrastination.

a) Attention -is ability to concentrate on a task while inhabiting distracting stimuli. An example of excellent attention is studying at a public place and blocking out the noises nearby. Hence, the more attentive an individual is, the less likely his or her mind wanders.

b) Impulsiveness – is ability to delay gratification. An example that tests this is when a friend tells you to go somewhere, but you can say no. In addition, do you guys see how impulsiveness ties in with Freud’s work and the ID ? The ID operates on the pleasure principle and wants immediate pleasure. Therefore, someone high on impulsivity is more likely to procrastinate, because he or she cannot wait.

c) Planning – is ability to estimate how long a task will take and schedule times appropriately to accomplish it. It is surprising that planning is a trait you are born with, but never the less, you can always work on it. For example, learning how to break tasks down so that they become manageable.

In conclusion, the sources of procrastination are rooted in biology. Personality traits such as conscientiousness and openness affect how hard we try and want to learn. Self-esteem affects how confident we feel about improving. While the prefrontal cortex affects ability to attend, focus, and plan. All in which are control by genes.

Procrastination is rooted in biology, but it is also controlled by the environment. Motivation, distractions, and mood are causes by environment. Let’s have a look at each one and examine how each contributes to procrastination.

Environmental Cause Number 1 – Motivation

Motivation gives reasons to do a task. Low motivation is a source of procrastination. This is often true when deciding whether a task is worth time and effort. Hence beliefs affect motivation, and by changing beliefs, a task can motivate us more or less. To illustrate the power of beliefs, here’s a following passage from Celestine Chua in her how to overcome procrastination blog page. In it, she talks about her early school years where her interests lies in web design and is disinterested towards unrelated school work. Hence, she does not get very good grades. However, excellence is a part of her self-concept. It is important to her that she is not a failure. Therefore, she later learns to redefine what excellence means to her. In doing so, she makes sure to do everything excellently. Hence, she starts doing very well in classes and eventually graduates as the top student in university. In addition to her success, she is now the life coach and writer of The Personal Excellence Blog. In summary, re-evaluating the reasons to do a task increases motivation. Greater motivation means less procrastination. Hence, the next time, you start on a task, list a few reasons why you are doing it and what you hope to accomplish.

Environmental Cause Number 2Distractions

Distraction is anything that sways us from focusing on a task. They can be divided into those that require immediate attention and those that don’t. Those that do are called important distractions and those that don’t non-important.  Here’s a linkto a list of each.

Recognizing non-important distractions decrease procrastination, because it makes you aware. Being aware prompts one to take measures.

Here’s a following guild on how to avoid distractions:

1. Recognize what distractions are and what are distracting you. For example, ask yourself if it is msn. If the log in sign that is popping up when somebody logs in is making you talk to them. If so, then log off.

2.     After recognizing what is distracting you, find ways to avoid them. General ways include studying at the library, with a hardworking friend, disabling face book. Library is a quiet place to study so it helps you focus. Secondly, seeing other people study motivates you to study.

3.     Lastly, learn to delay gratification. To say “NO” when a friend requests you to go somewhere.

Environmental Cause Number 3Mood & Energy

Mood fluctuates from hours to hours. It is affected by how much energy we have. The less energy, in most cases the less positive we are. An instance of this is getting home from work and feeling too tired to study. Hence, mood and energy affects procrastination.

In a better mood and energy state, we are more inclined to get tasks done. We become more productive. And when we are not, less so. Hence, it is important to be in the mood to study.

Here are some tips to help you be in the right mood:

1.     Having a proper sleeping pattern. Studies have shown that at least 8 hours of sleep is necessary to get us functioning for the next 16 hours. Furthermore, a regular sleeping pattern maintains normal level of hormone productions that makes us healthy.

2.     Reserving or saving up energy for studying. If you find yourself really tire after coming home from school, make sure you take a short nap to replenish that.

3.     Physical exercise. Studies have shown that jogs reduce stress. This means increased positive feelings.

4.     Study free of distractions. Distractions affect mood. Just simply listening to music can change your mood, because music has emotional implications.

5.     Meditate.

Environmental Cause Number 4 – Task Difficulty and Need for Perfection

Task difficulty refers to how hard it is to complete a task. Need for perfection is the desire to do a great job. They both cause procrastination, because they produce anxiety. This anxiety is the result of cognitive dissonance, what we call when we experience two conflicting perspectives. In procrastination, we want to succeed, but one hand, realize that the task is too hard. Hence, anxiety results.

When anxiety results, we close our mind. We become discouraged, and we start questioning ourselves. “How do I begin? Can I accomplish this? If so, how long would it take?” Hence, we spend time thinking everything through.

However, the process can be made easier. Here are some tips to overcome anxiety. First with respect to task difficulty, seek teachers, friends, or internet for help. Do some research into the topic. Inspire yourself for ideas. Break big tasks down into smaller ones. We often see it as a whole and this makes everything look harder than it should be. Plan when to get your tasks done. This encourages you to make quick decisions. Secondly with need for perfection, lower your expectations. Realize that the task is difficult. That you may not do a very good job at first but will try your best and learn from it.

In summary, procrastination is a learnt habit with maladaptive consequences affecting productivity and quality performance. Procrastination is the result of both biology and environment. Biology such as personality traits like conscientiousness and openness affect how hard we try and want to learn. Self-esteem affects confidence and believing that you can improve. While the prefrontal cortex affects ability to attend, focus, and plan. Personality, self-esteem, attention, impulsivity, and planning decide who is more or less likely to procrastinate. As for environment, motivations, distractions, mood, energy, task difficulty, and perfectionism contributes to procrastination. Motivation provides reasons for persisting. Recognizing non-important distractions encourages attention. Excellent mood and energy fuels inspiration. Reduced task difficulty and need for perfection minimize anxiety. All in which interacts together to affect procrastination, and recognizing what controls you can provide ways to overcome them.

From this study guild, I hope the readers now have comprehensive knowledge about what procrastination is, how it occurs, what causes it, and many ways to overcome it. My ultimate goal through this project is to help everyone lead a more productive, brilliant, and successful life in this and the next few years. In addition, hopefully, many will fulfill their New Year’s Resolution.

Best Wishes,

© 2011 by Psychology2010.tumblr.com


Social Phobia: What it is? The Causes? and The Treatment

Social Phobia

We all at some point experience anxiety when confronted with a social situation. For instance, when having to speak in public, talk with classmates, or asking teachers for help. Social phobia is a very common issue. However, because social phobia can interfere with social functioning and create anxiety, we should at least educate ourselves about it.

In this post, I talk about what social phobia is, identify the DSM 4 TR criteria, discuss the causes and potential treatments.

What is Social Phobia?

Social phobia is also known as social anxiety disorder and is described by the DSM-4-TR as fears of one or more specific social situation. For instance, speaking in front of classmates, talking to new people, or even eating in public.

What are the DSM-4-TR criteria?

Can be found at the following “link.

What are the causes of social phobia?

Just like most phobias, there are multiple causes that are both biological, environmental and cognitive.

Learned Behavior: Like specific phobias, social phobias often seem to originate from simple instances of direct or vicarious classical conditioning. In direct classical conditioning, a person gets into a social situation, for instance gives a presentation in front of class, and embarrasses self. Consequently, this person fears future presentations. In vicarious classical conditioning, it is similar to direct except this person sees someone else goes through it. Both types of conditioning can cause a person to develop a specific social phobia. And often this phobia extends to other social phobia such as the fear of people in general. This becomes called generalized social phobia.

Evolution: Social phobia includes the fear of other people. A person fears potential threats.  The evolution theory argues that social phobia is an innate response to avoid people who imposes danger. For instance, when one avoids talking to strangers and hence meeting new people.

Genetic and Temperament: exclaims that social phobia is more common among infants who are easily distressed by unfamiliar stimuli and who are shy and avoidant. These infants are more likely to develop social phobia, because they already have the characteristics that are typical of it.

Cognition: holds that social phobia is cause by the negative perception of self and people. For instance, thinking that oneself is not interesting and can not contribute to a conversation or thinking that people will judge. Beck and Emery who’s conducted a research in 1985 on this suggests that people with social phobia tend to expect that other people will reject or negatively evaluate them. Hence, if one perceives otherwise, one can overcome social phobia.

Overcoming Social Phobia:

There are very effective forms of behavior and cognitive behavioral therapy for social phobia.

Behavior therapy: argues that by teaching one how to act or behave and frequent exposure to the anxiety provoking situation, one can learn to overcome one’s social phobia. For instance, for fear of giving presentations, behavior therapy might teach one to prepare better before giving a speech and/or how to interact with the audience. Doing so, one gains the skills and experiences necessary to be comfortable in one’s shoes.

Behavioral Cognitive theory: argues that because there is a cognitive component to social phobia, for one to treat the phobia, one needs to not only learn how to behave but also change the ways one thinks. Recall that social phobia often involves a perception of being negatively evaluated, rejected or embarrassed, if one sees that this is in fact an overestimation of what’s not true, one can learn to overcome one’s phobia.

Furthermore, another key point to this therapy is that by changing one’s perception of others, one changes one’s perception of self. Doing so, one will feel much more confident and appear so to others.

Medications: such as antidepressants can also help. However, I personally don’t recommend them as a primary treatment, because once one stops taking them, the phobia comes back. It’s much more effective if one overcomes the underlying causes. In this case, changing how one thinks and/or learning how to interact in social situations.

In summary, social phobia is the fear of social situations. It can be a specific kind or extend to wide range. There are 5 criteria for social phobia in the current DSM. Social phobia can be learned, innate, caused by lack of social skills or having negative perceptions of self or others. It is a very common problem. Around 12% of the population qualifies for it. It can be treated through behavioral or cognitive therapy.

© 2011 by Psychology2010.tumblr.com


How To Take Excellent Notes from Psychology2010

Excellent note taking is an important skill to have in school. Unfortunately, not a lot of students realize this. Organized notes facilitates encoding, separate main points from details, provide notes to review from, and speeds up studying 10 folds.

Hence, in this study guild, I will teach how to organize notes, distinguish poor note taking strategies from good ones, and explain how good note-taking facilitates exam preparation.

To start off, click at the following two links and describe to yourself three differences in terms of organization of the sample notes that you see below. Here are the links:

Link 1 (Sample Note 1)  Link 2 (Sample Note 2)

Hopefully, you’ve noticed that in link 1, the notes are in full sentence, does not have structure(not organized), and does not separate main points from details.

And in link 2, see a contrast. Sample note 2 is in point form, has a hierarchical-like fashion to it, and identifies main points from supporting points.

Good note taking is about all of the above in sample note 2.

Point Form: Taking notes in point forms as opposed to full sentences speeds up reading by capturing key words. Key words trigger the brain to associate relevant facts to the main concepts.

Hierarchical structure: Notes that have some form of structure to it such as a hierarchy separates main points such as topic titles from supporting points. In note 2, one sees that main points stand further outside, while the detail points inside. Supporting main narrows in; are bunched closer together. A hierarchical structure is important when it comes to having notes that are organized and will be easy to remember.

Main vs Supporting Points: Main points are the topic titles or bigger picture. Supporting points illustrate and provide details to the main points. The hierarchical structure enables this. Being able to tell main points from supporting points will save a lot of time and get a lot of marks when answering questions on written exams. Many students tend to memorize details without understanding how the details fit in with the bigger picture. Distinguishing main from supporting points allows one to know what information are important to mention or remember for a test.

In summary, excellent notes are organized notes. Organized notes have three key components: Are in point form, have structure, and separates main from supporting points. All in the goal for saving time when studying and getting the most optimal marks in classes.

How do organized notes facilitate review periods?

Aside from having notes to study from by exam times, and not having to borrow from a friend or friends for them, or reread the textbook several times, or risk forgetting information, organized notes enriches memory encoding and enhances memory retrieval.

The hierarchical structure of notes works by chunking information. In cognitive terms, this means grouping related information together. For instance, putting supporting points in the categories they belong. The chunking of information, works pretty much like how we organize “files into folders” in computers. We give a name to a folder, and we put the files that belong to it. And because a folder contains the relevant files, by recalling on the folder name alone, we can almost recall the files in it. Just like note taking, we have the main concepts, the folder. Within the main concepts, we have supporting points, the files.

Hence, organized notes have hierarchical structure to them. This hierarchical structure enriches encoding by making it easier to remember and take out information.

In summary, taking really good notes is an important skill to have in school. Good notes have the following three characteristics: Are in point form, have structure, and separates main from supporting points. Having organized notes speeds up studying, by providing notes to study from, enhancing encoding and recall. All for the hopes of spending less time studying and performing the best one can on an exam!

Hope this post has helped everyone at some level and Happy Chinese New Year!

© 2011 by Psychology2010.tumblr.com