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A New Type of Attention

In a previous post I wrote about how intuitions can cloud judgement, making it difficult to keep an open mind when trying to make the right decisions. I mentioned a study* done by the well-known psychologist Daniel Kahneman which identifies a dual-process of making decisions – System 1 and System 2. System 1 is thinking fast, automatically and subconsciously. Whereas System 2 reasons more slowly (consciously), logically and requires more effort. System 2 therefore makes us pay attention to what we are seeing.

An article in Scientific American recently described research that identified two different  brain areas that we use to pay attention to internal information and external information – between paying attention to a soccer match and noticing your own heartbeat. This is because the brain areas involved in paying attention to internal rather than external stimuli is governed by different brain regions. It has long been known that attention to external stimuli is driven by the prefrontal cortex. However, the area responsible for paying attention to internal information is seated in a more primitive part of the brain – the insula and posterior cingulate cortex.

this research, together with the research from Dan Kahneman, might explain why we are frequently aware of other people’s flaws and not our own

I think this research, together with the research from Dan Kahneman, might explain why we are frequently aware of other people’s flaws and not our own. The  part of the brain that controls what we internally pay attention to, is governed by the subconscious (i.e. the insula and posterior cingulate cortex, or System 1), whereas what we pay attention to externally, is governed by a ‘conscious’ part of our brains – the posterior cingulate cortex (i.e. System 2).

 

A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost? Most people say 10c, because they make use of the intuitive System 1, and not the focused System 2 to think the problem through. (the right answer is 5 cents).

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Werner van Zyl
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E-mail: werner@neuromind.co.za