Attention each of the attention types. The



Fredrik Dam Hansen – 20166252

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Human Senses and Perception



1 Introduction

This paper will investigate what attention is as well as the different types of attention. The paper will go into specifics with visual as well as auditory attention, and investigate which problems might occur and which phenomenons that is related to each of the attention types.


The paper will go into details of designing multimedia applications with attention as an element. The paper will investigate the different methods and theories that is used to design for attention. Furthermore, it will investigate which precautions to take when taking attention into consideration.

2 Theory

2.1 Attention defined

Before explaining attention, it is important to understand awareness. Awareness is the sensing of both external and internal environments around a person. There is  a lot of different sensations going on all the time, i.e, smells, sounds and touch to skin. All these sensations invoke activity in the sensory system of the brain and the person is made aware of them. The ability to select a specific source of input and increase the cognitive processing is what’s defined as attention. An example of this can be while driving a car the attention is on the road, which means that the focus is on the visual aspect, while still being aware of other sensations such as sounds. The attention can the be moved if another sensation requires the attention, for example the kids starts crying on the backseat or sirens are going off behind the vehicle, this moves the attention from the visual to the auditory. Furthermore, there is different kinds of attention

(Human Senses and Perception, Pg 292-293)


Attention can be divided into different types of attention, but even though being divided, attention will be selective. For an example, divided attention can be a person focusing on the tv while having a conversation while looking after their child, this can be classified as divided attention, but will still be selective due to the person selecting on which elements of their awareness they focus on. Furthermore, focused attention is the form of attention where a person focuses on a very specific subject such as reading a sentence or listening to a specific sound (Yantis & Abrams, 2017).

2.2 Different types of attention

2.2.1 Selective Attention

When the sensations and the constant change in stimuli becomes to overwhelming the brain must choose which streams of information that it is aware of, and which of these streams the attention is focused on (Human Senses and Perception, Pg 293). Auditory attention

Attention can be broken down into further categories involving the different senses, which each has their own usage. For an example there’s visual attention as well as auditory attention. Different types of attention can apply to different types of attention, an example of auditory selective attention is the cocktail party phenomenon. This phenomenon describes the occurrence that when two people are at a place with a lot of noise they are still able to filter out the noise from the crowd and hear each other talk. This is done by the brain separating the noise into two different streams of information while the most important stream is the one that gets the attention. The way this is done is by listening to the physical characteristics of sound. For an example the pitch of a voice in a noisy crowd, or listening to a specific instrument at a concert (Engineering Psychology and Human Performance 4th Edition, Christopher D. Wickens, Justin G. Hollands, Simon Banbury, Raja Parasurajaman, Pg 79-80) Visual Attention

An example of visual attention, a phenomenon called inattentional blindness was discovered. This phenomenon describes the inability to see objects even though they are in plain sight. This happens when a person is looking at a fixation point and a distraction appears which shifts the attention to the distraction while in the fixation point a visual change have occurred (Human Senses and Perception, Pg 294-295). An example of this is, if a person is driving a car down the road behind another car and the person is looking at the front car, then a flash of light appears in the edge of the drivers field of vision and the attention is shifted. Only if it is momentarily the driver is likely to not have noticed that the car in front started breaking and the brake lights are turned on due to the attention was at the flashing light for a moment.


Another example of visual selective attention is called change blindness, and as in the term suggests, unable to detect the difference when a change happens due to focus. A game which many people might have tried when they were children is the detect differences between two similar images where the person needs to look at both of them and find all the missing pieces. The reason that the differences is not obvious at the first glance, but the person have to look at the pictures one after another is due to not having detailed simultaneous awareness of both pictures at the same time. Change Blindness describes our limited ability to detect multiple things at the same time. This means that even though the person might be looking at straight at the difference from one picture to the other, they might not notice because they are already paying attention to something else. (Human Senses and Perception, Pg 298).


Change blindness is not always related to spotting the difference between two pictures or two other similarities, it can be change done to something that is in focus by the observer. In the study by Simons, D. and Levin, D. T. (1997) Change blindness, a test was conducted using motion pictures where an object was centralized throughout the whole film. In this case it was a character doing basic tasks such as answering the telephone, sitting on a chair or walking around. The camera angle was cut from scene to scene using conventional editing techniques cutting in the middle of the action. Even though the character was centralized and the focus of the scene, 67% failed to notice that the character was changed. Based on these findings it is apparent that attention is a big part of how observing everyday scenarios works. When detecting change is the goal, observers search and encode features and possible changes. In a natural viewing setting, this is not likely to be the case, instead they will likely look at the overall picture and not pay attention to details (Simons, D. and Levin, D. T. (1997) Change blindness). The Binding Problem

The binding problem can be described as the problem the visual system is faces with, when observing objects features the belongs to the same, or different objects. The brain consists of different parts that each help the visual system. For an example, in one part of the brain, the neurons are more responsive to motion perception and less responsive to colors, while in another part of the brain, the neurons will be more responsive to color perception and less to motion perception. This means that when observing a complex object, multiple part of the brain starts working and create a representation of that object, this is called distributed representation (Yantis & Abrams, 2017).


Distributed representation is not a problem as long as the brain knows where the features are coming from, i.e. a single object. However, in a usual setting, this would not be the case, there would be many objects and many features to be processed. The way the brain does this is, as aforementioned the brain has different parts responsible for different kind of features. In the specific parts of the brain there is neurons responsible for different types of features, i.e. in the part that responds to color, some neurons responds strongly to green and others to blue or red. Likewise in the orientation part, some responds strongly to vertical, and others to horizontal (Yantis & Abrams, 2017).

2.3 Guiding Attention when Designing Multimedia Applications

When designing multimedia applications attention is an important factor to consider. It is important to be able to keep the users attention, otherwise they might lose interest or get frustrated. Everything sensation is processed in the brain and can be translated into different types of memory. The different types are, working memory, short-term memory and long term memory. Short term  is the memory that contains the focus of the attention. The memory is small and can only process 5-7 functions. As aforementioned, attention is selective, and is unable to process everything that people are aware of, and therefore attention is the focus of the most relevant features and functions (Jancik, 2017(


The phenomenon of the short term memory only being able to store up to 7 chunks of information is defined as the magical number 7 ± 2. This term defines the amount of chunks of information the brain can store at one time. The information chunks are not constant, which means that depending on the type of information, the amount can be 2 higher or 2 lower, i.e, 7 digits or 6 letters (Miller, 1956(The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information – George A. Miller)).


The reason that the magical number 7 ± 2 is important when designing applications is that when the user is presented with information, the designer have to be careful that they will not get overwhelmed, which can cause them to lose focus of a task if too many things are going on. Furthermore, if a user have to take too many steps to achieve a goal, they will not be likely to remember the path they take, i.e, they have to purchase an item online, but the path to the checkout is too long and complicated, the user is likely to forget some of the initial steps taken and have to start over.


Feedback is another functionality which is important when designing for multimedia applications. A visual or an auditory aid for the user that displays current steps, or steps taken. This can be done with a highlight of a word, using arrows or a clicking sound when something is clicked. The reason this is used, is not to overload the users short term memory, making it likely for them to forget the original goal (Jancik, 2017).


3 Discussion

3.1 Different types of attention

When considering the different types awareness and attention, it puts everyday life into another form of perspective. Being able to relate to different kind of situations, where the brain subconsciously diverts the attention to match the will of a person.


Considering that attention is selective, the brain is also programmed to direct the attention towards an unexpected element, i.e, if a student is sitting at an exam and suddenly another student slams a door or starts coughing, the student might direct their attention towards that person making noise. The same happens with visual attention, if a bright light or something that appears out of place in a visual environment, the attention might get directed towards that object unwillingly.


The difference between auditory and visual attention is the way the brain perceives a given object. The way that the selective attention is listening for sound characteristics, and the way that the visual system perceives objects color, shape and motion. When designing for users, not only in multimedia applications, but anything that has a consumer, it is in the designers attention to create a design which will capture the users attention. With the knowledge of how attention and awareness functions, these elements can be taken into consideration for a potential design, visual and auditory alike.

3.2 Designing for Attention

As mentioned in chapter 2.3 when designing for attention, the users short term memory and the magical number 7 ± 2 is an important factor. This does not only apply for multimedia applications, but in general when user centered design is involved. If a person is using a piece of hardware which requires an unnecessary amount of steps to perform a task, the user will have a hard time remembering and learn the task. Furthermore, it can be frustrating to use an object of a piece of software that is unnecessary complex or overloads the short term memory. As aforementioned, feedback is also important, this goes for both visual as well as auditory cues. For an example, many smartphones today include functions with different sorts of feedback when text messaging. It is possible to get a haptic feedback in form of vibration when a letter is pressed, as well as the possibility to get a sound such as a clicking noise when a letter is pressed.


4 Conclusion

Attention is the part of the awareness where the focus is. Of all the things in the external as well as the internal environment that a person is aware of, the attention is the part where the person puts the focus, the focus can change depending on circumstances and the will of the person.

There is different kinds of attention such as auditory attention which focuses on sound cues, and visual attention which focuses on sight and the visual environment.


Auditory attention is the way the brain perceives sound. The cocktail party effect describes how the brain can focus on a particular auditory stimuli while filtering out the others. This happens by using  the characteristics of the sound such as the pitch of a voice.


Visual attention is the way the brain perceives what a person observes. Visual attention is related to the binding problem, which is a term used of how the brain perceives objects. The binding problem describes how the brain uses individual parts to control different patterns of an object. For example, one part controls the motion, one controls color, and another one controls if the object is perceived as horizontal or vertical.

Inattentional blindness and change blindness is also related to visual attention. These are both phenomenons that describes scenarios where attention can cause a person to fail to see objects even though they are looking at them.


When designing for users with attention as an element, there is several important factors to be considered. The short term memory of a user is important to keep in mind to not overload their memory or cause them to lose interest.

Feedback is also important, a confirmation when a user takes an action, helps them understand what they are doing easier, as well as reduces the amount of information they have to store in the memory.


5 Bibliography