3/05/2013

Selective Attention - The veils of Perception

Do you see a swan or a monster - the perception is relative|
All around us there are reams and reams of information and if we are to notice them all we would definitely go mad. Our brain is so nice to us that he serves our attention only part of the reality around. Don't you believe? Have a look at the video below. Your tasks is to count how many times the white team passes the ball.
Watch carefully so that you don't miss any pass. Black and white players will move around quickly to make the exercise more difficult.

Did you notice the gorilla? I frankly did not when I watched it for the first time even though I knew what to expect. My attention was fully focused on counting the passes and I saw nothing else. If you noticed the monkey you usually lost the count of passes because your attention shifted to different task. You can watch another video in worse light condition to test your awareness once more. 
Focus on single color things - then try to remember other colors
Or you can try another game. Go into a place filled with plenty of colorful things. You can take a ride by train through the city or visit a shopping mall. At one moment try to see as much blue object as possible. You can easily identify plentiful of blue jeans, t-shirts, flags, writings and other stuff and you will even remember them afterwards. However if you're later asked about green things you would probably wonder even whether the grass was green, because your attention was fully to the blue stuff. 
"We call intentions the force that keeps information in consciousness ordered... They act as magnetic fields moving attention toward some objects and away from others, keeping our mind focused on some stimuli in preference to others."

You have witnessed this effect many times before. When you bought a new car surprisingly you started to meet same cars everywhere you traveled. After an interview for unknown company you noticed her logo here and there. How is it possible that you did not see the cars and logos before? If was unimportant to you and so your brain did not bother you with these things. 
Angry man is difficult to calm down
Your brain reveals only the things we are interested in. If we are happy we see plenty of happy situations and while we are angry we perceive many things which make as even more upset. I guess you ever noticed how difficult is to calm down an angry person because he uses all your words against you. In that moment he has a brilliant ability to see everything as a threat and problem. 
So why am I talking about the selective awareness? It is because if you accept its existence you can use it to your profit. The world is not the same for everyone. Even we ourselves are perceiving it differently depending on our mood and thoughts. Selective attention, which I like to call 'mind-glasses', focuses our brain to the things we are thinking about. If it's poverty, injustice and sickness we find even more diseases, unfairness and destitution around us. If we rather think about well-being, happiness or success we miraculously find easier solutions, live happier life and achieve success more easily.
William Whitecloud - cover of the Last Shaman In the Last Shaman by William Whitecloud the main character is tricked into seeing an young playful elephant as aggressive bull who is trying to kill him just by a few remarks how the jungle is dangerous and how does an enraged animal look like. Then in a moment the shaman changes characters' thoughts and he immediately  starts to see timid youth who wouldn't harm a fly. The medicine-man plays a few more tricks and the main character's perception is changing with each word.

The truth is subjective to the observer

That is why in each situation everyone can perceive something different. Even the truth is not carved in stone but is subjective to the observer. The source of many arguments is to determine who is correct, but the problem is that both sides are right even though each is telling something else. Our reality is relative and it changes as quickly as we change our mind.
Did you know that Eskimos had several dozens words for snow? They can differentiate between wet and dry, old and new, thick and thin by single look, because in their world it is important. For my friend from India who never saw a snow flake it's just snow or cold white dust.
Men and women perceive different realities
Many books and courses are pointing out that males and females are perceiving the world differently. Again their selective attention is upon something else which can lead to many confusion in the relationship. If we learn what is important for the opposite gender we can built harmonic relationship more easily. For example men (containing a spark of ancient mammoth hunter) are trained to find a quick solution and women tend to think while chatting. A men can produce some kind of solution to her problem after every word she say while she is upset that he's not listening. Both are trying to make the other happy but they tragically failing because they don't see the reality of their partner.
If we keep in mind that everything is relative, that there are far more things in the world that we perceive a whole new world of possibilities will open for us. If we remember that what we think about is creating our reality we can achieve more satisfying living. Think about selective attention for a while and try to change your surroundings by switching your attention (e.g. from blue things to green or from failure to success) and you can experience its effect. Then you can decide what is more useful for you and try to focus on that.

Foto: steevithak (swan), LethaColleen (blue-green) , Steve Rhode (angry man), Makena G (loving couple)

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