Idea of selective attention

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This paper hopes to cover what is selective attention, the types of selective attention and the issues that can be derived from such behavior. Some of the issues will be mentioned and some will be discussed in-depth. The paper will also cover models that will help you, the reader, to understand the negativity that can be derived from this type of behavior, as well as ways that companies can prevent this behavior and the ways that it can lead to demotivation. The paper will also analyze, and discuss the best methods by which this behavior can be combated from a business perspective.


For you, the reader, to understand what selective attention is, we must first discuss “selective perception”.

Role theory is important for us to be able to under how we perceive others. E.M. Foster once wrote that there are two types of characters and that we must be able to differentiate between them. E.M. Foster said “that the test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises then it is a flat character. If it does not convincing then it is a flat character pretending to be a round one. It has the incalculability of life in it.”

The idea of “selective perception” is based on the idea where one can selectively interpret what one sees and hears based on the person’s interest, attitude, culture and background.

Given that information, one can safely define selective attention as “the ability of one (exercised unconsciously) to be able to chose from different streams of data, for the person to be concentrate on elements that they believe to be valuable and to ignore the others that they believe to be unimportant.”

It should also be mentioned that selective perception leads to selective attention. “We hypothesize that older adults who anxiously expect, readily perceive, and intensely react to social rejection because of their old age (i.e., have high age-based rejection sensitivity) are vulnerable to depression and poor social functioning.” This is based from the Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 43, Issue 3, June 2009, Pages 392-398.

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The basic idea, here, is that selective attention is a process in which an individual can filter one message from a mixture of messages that occur simultaneously. This level of attention also refers to the individual’s capacity to maintain a cognitive or behavioural set in the blatant face of distracting or contrasting stimuli’s. Bearing this in mind, we can then understand how this idea or theory can incorporate the notion of “freedom from distractibility”.


Behavior that is goal oriented requires focused attention on goal relevant stimuli’s. The load theory of attention suggests two mechanisms of selective attention. The first is:

  • Perceptual Selection Mechanism
  • Active mechanism of Attention control


This is a passive mechanism, which allows for the exclusion of “irrelevant distractor stimuli”. This idea is based on the perception of situations from a high perceptual load. This is where irrelevant distractor interference is prevented because the distractors are not to be perceived where there is insufficient capacity to be processed.


This is more of an active genre, whereby the attentional control is needed for the rejection of irrelevant distractors even if they are perceived (some situations may allow for a low perceptual load). This form of controls relies on higher cognitive functions, e.g. working memory; this is required for the active maintenance of current processing priorities so that we can be sure that low-priority stimuli’s do not have a control of human behavior.


Selective attention has the unconscious ability to affect one’s work environment whether one is aware of it or not. Issues such as:

  • Expectation
  • The self fulfilling prophecy
  • Favoritism
  • Stereotyping
  • Demotivation of staff

These can affect both the mangers and staff, be it at the boardroom level or the ground floor of any business.


Kenneth Craik suggested in 1943 that the mind constructs “small scale model” that it then uses to predict events and the circumstances that the person is in. The mind constructs these mental models based on perception, imagination, or through the comprehension of discourse. They can underline visual images, but they also have the ability to be abstract, so they can represent events that cannot be visualized. They are akin to the picture theory of language described in 1922 by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Bearing this in mind, one can now understand how expectations can be affected by selective attention. There is an advert on the radio right now about back injuries. It is about people who move heavy loads for a living and they are pressured by their bosses to be quick (external forces). The employee focuses on the job at hand, forgetting about personal safety. This is because the employee has a mental model or he lets the expectations of his boss get to him, hence preventing him from seeing the competitive threats that can be detrimental to him.


This is based on the idea that if a person thinks that you are clever or stupid or whatever, people will treat us they way that we feel and act. But the theory also believes that if we are treated in a certain way that we would become or act a certain way. So if one is treated like he/she is clever, they will feel clever and therefore act clever. This is known as the “PYGMALION EFFECT.”


Favoritism in the workplace is one of the most Demotivation things a person can experience. In the workplace favoritism refers to someone who appears to be treated better than others and not by any means this is related to their work related performance. Favoritism in the workplace can lead to one person being promoted faster than other person’s (unfairly), or being paid more than the other to do the same job, or they have longer breaks or come to work late or leave work early on a regular basis.

The end result is the same; they appear to be treated better than you for no valid reason. No matter the reason, the favoritism that one’s colleagues are given seems to you correlates more with the fact of who they know and less to do with their ability for the job.


Stereotyping is developed under certain conditions. It is based on preconceived ideas forced unto us by culture, other people experiences as well as our own. This can be due to poor communication, lack of understanding, and misunderstanding of someone else’s culture. There are different types of stereotyping such as

  • Age
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Political beliefs
  • Ethnicity


Age discrimination or ageism is discrimination against a person or a group because of their age. The term was created by gerontologist Robert N. Butler to describe discrimination against seniors. It should be mentioned that ageism does not affect only the elder members of society but it also affects the younger members of society as well. In the United Kingdom ageism is frequently unnoticed but if a young person is discriminated against he or she may make a claim that the said he or she has been discriminated against. He or she may file this claim under the Employment and Equality Act (Age) Regulations (2006). This act protects persons over aged 50 and over from discrimination in area of employment and education. Regulations such as these discusses age equality in regard to the hiring of new staff, how workers are treated in the work place as well as age equality in relation to the firing and redundancies and retirement as well as the educational equivalents, e.g. NVQ’S..


This is based on the fact that a person can be discriminated against because of their color, nationality or ethnic or national origins.


  • Direct Discrimination- this is deliberate discrimination for example where a specific job is available to people of a specific racial group
  • Indirect Discrimination -working practices, provisions or criteria created on the basis that it is disadvantageous to members of particular work groups. E.g. introducing a dress code without good reason that will discriminate against some ethnic groups. Muslims are a good example of this.
  • Harassment – the participation in or the allowing or encouraging behavior that is offensive to people e.g. making racist jokes

The Race Relation act (1976) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against anyone on the basis of racial grounds. Employees are protected from racial discrimination at all stages of employment.


Gender discrimination or sexism has many legal consequences. Basically sexual discrimination can be loosely defined as an adverse action against another human being. This also considered being a type of prejudiced.

The United Nations says that women often experience something called the “glass ceiling” and that there are no societies where women are treated as equals to men. “Glass ceiling” is based on the idea that there are perceived barriers to the advancement in employment which is based on discriminations.

The Sexual Discrimination Act (1975) says that it is unlawful for any employer to discriminate against anyone based on:

  • Gender
  • If you are married
  • If you have had, intend to have or are having gender reassignment (this refers to someone who supervised by an doctor, who changes the persons their gender)

Sexual discrimination laws cover almost all employees and all types of organizations in the U.K. the law cover:

  • Recruitment
  • Employment terms and conditions
  • Pays and benefits
  • Status
  • Training
  • Promotion and transfer opportunities
  • Redundancy

It also be mentioned that the Equal pay act also makes it unlawful for the employers to discriminate between men and women in terms of pay and conditions where they doing:

  • The same or similar job
  • Work that is rated as equivalent to a job evaluation study by the employer
  • Or work of equal value

In an ideal society we would like to believe that this happen but that is not necessarily true. According to Catherine Rampell of The New York Times,

“In most jobs, the gap between men’s and women’s earnings narrows greatly when you adjust for factors like career path and experience. But at the top of the income scale – jobs paying more than $100,000 – the salary gap between equally qualified men and women is still vast.” The article also suggests that sexism can still exist even though laws are put into place to avoid such circumstances.


Four in-depth views were given that are believed to plague an organization due to “selective attention”. Knowing these issues one can discuss the precautionary methods which can be used as a solution to these problems.


Selective attention can be prevented if we are to use this method. This where the whole view is taken into consideration based on specific elements form a perceptual field. Using splatter vision can help with decision making and would help with the avoidance of issues such as threats and opportunities. If this is done, with an open minded approach they will be able to maintain a peripheral vision.

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“The balanced scorecard retains traditional financial measures. But financial measures tell the story of past events, an adequate story for industrial age companies for which investments in long-term capabilities and customer relationships were not critical for success. These financial measures are inadequate, however, for guiding and evaluating the journey that information age companies must make to create future value through investment in customers, suppliers, employees, processes, technology, and innovation.”

The scorecard has evolved from its early uses as a simple measurement framework to a full blown part of strategic planning and management system. The balance scorecard has the ability to transform an organizations strategic planning. The scorecard helps with performance measurement whereby, employee’s are recognized and promoted based on performance of the past. This process, as the one before, helps overcome the barriers of favoritism and stereotyping.


Through workshops companies and managers, will be able to bridge the communication gap that humans have. If we are unaware that we are doing this then we are can hardly be held responsible for natural human behavior. Through workshops we are able to interact with colleagues in a structured environment. We will also be able to create awareness of issues that affect our daily lives. Through the workshop we will be able to help with issues such as:

  • Diversity awareness
  • Comparison compare
  • Create Empathy
  • Help with impression formation

Workshops are able to help with camaraderie, bring forth issues as well as to how to deal with them.


It is natural for humans to “gravitate to other humans with characteristics similar or closest to theirs”. As much as one would like to think that he/she is above it all, we cannot get away from the fact that we are humans with human faults. “The Wiggins 2-dimensional model is defined by eight scale scores of the “Interpersonal Adjective Scales”-Revised (IAS-R). This study hypothesis that there are 4 biporal factors which can account for the correlations among the 64 adjectives of the IAS-R. On the basis of the Cattell screen test, 5 principal components were extracted from the inter-correlations. Following a direct oblimin rotation, the rotated factors were interpreted as Agreeable-Cold-hearted, Extraverted-Introverted, Calculating-Ingenuous. Dominant-Submissive, and Shy. Thus, 4 of the hypothesized factors were confirmed. The findings suggest that a dimensional conception and the interpersonal circumplex are complementary approaches to understanding the interpersonal behavior domain” this is according to a study that conducted and published in the Personality and Individual Differences Volume 11, Issue 4, 1990, pages 423-425.

Every day we “size up” people, be it people who we meet for a brief moment or people we know our entire lives. One can tell their mood and through perception be aware of how they are feeling and how they will react in a certain environment. Of the three issues that have been discussed I believe that stereotyping is the worst. This is because of the perception that is brought to the table without the investigatory work being done. Assumption such as:

  • African Americans are lazy
  • Muslims are terrorist
  • Jews are wealthy or artistic
  • Latino’s are criminals and poor

These are assumption created by stereotyping but if we were to look closely we can see how wrong they are. For example: African Americans are lazy, this a generalized statement but what is the proof to back up such a statement. Jesse Jackson, Barrack Obama, Martin Luther King are African American who have worked hard to change the lives of Americans for betterment. Muslims are terrorist, based on the fact that the members of Al Queida belong to that faith. King Abdullah of Jordon is Muslim so does that make him a terrorist? During World War 2 Hitler believed that the Jews owned all the banks and where into theatre and the arts but Anne Frank’s Father owned a small fruit preservative factory. The point that I am trying to make is that people are people. They have their own personality. They have feelings.

We live in the real world and we cannot label people into boxes and categories that we feel that they belong to. True story, I am from the Caribbean, but when people see me or even have to guess what part of the world I am from they would choose places like India or Pakistan. They stereotype me based on the color of my skin rather than by getting to know me or ask questions. Perception is only quarter of the game the other three quarters comes from asking questions and getting to know the people that you work with.


Internal and external factors influence selective attention. We can agree that selective attention can be done consciously or unconsciously. But I think that it is done more unconsciously based on the fact that if we are not aware that we are actually performing it. Through awareness, we can combat the issues that have been raised in this paper. Through formal systems such as the scorecard one can find a way to manage the problems that are faced but if one are not aware of the problems then how can one face them. Seminars and workshops are the best way for both manages and staff to be aware of the problems that are caused from unconscious behavior.

Companies can also implement through their HR department, strategies from the early stages that will make their entire staff aware of the situations that can be created by this sort of behavior. It is the companies’ responsibility to inform their staff of the laws that are there to protect people as well to make them aware of their rights as individuals as well.

We know that through the self-fulfilling prophecy people can believe what they believe people believe of them. Bearing that in mind we can understand how we can change people’s perception of other people if they would only be given the correct information.

Only through trial and error can one correct the issues that are part of our work environment.

According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs people need to have that feeling of acceptance as time passes by. Acceptance helps with the motivation of staff and the role that it relates to is the companies’ production. The goal of all companies is for them to produce effectively and efficiently. Motivation of staff plays a big in this facing the issues at hand through the methods that I have mentioned will enable make their employee’s aware, informed, create prevention but also it will create respect. Respect of the people who they work with and who they work. The people you work with are like your second family (if you are to think of the amount of time that you spend with them). Do we not respect our families, understand and empathize with their need and there problems. We do not stereotype our families because we know them. If we are to put this basic rule into place know people before you judge them. There is a saying never judge a book by its cover, keep that in mind the next time you meet someone new!


  1. Interference and Facilitation Effects during Selective Attention: An H215O PET Study of Stroop Task Performance
  2. Load Theory of Selective Attention and Cognitive Control, Nilli Lavie and Aleksandra Hirst, University College LondonJan W. de Fockert, University of London Essi Viding,Kings College London
  3. on the 01/02/10)
  4. on the 01/02/10)
  5. The New York Times, November 16, 2009, 5:25 pm November 16, 2009, 5:25 pm
  6. (accessed on the 01/02/10)
  7. Jon Driver (2001) “A selective review of selective attention research from the past century” British journal of Psychology, vol. 92, pp.53-78
  8. Mckenna Eugene (2000), “Business Psychology and Organisational Behaviour- A student’s Handbook”, 3rd Ed. By psychology Press lt


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