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3. Attention: Hacks 34–43 > 38. Don’t Look Back!

Don’t Look Back!

Your visual attention contains a basic function that puts the dampers on second glances.

There are layers and layers of functions and processing in the brain. One—attention—is a collaborative exercise between voluntary application of attention and automatic mechanisms to snap attention to where it’s needed [Grab Attention]. Even the voluntary application of attention is a negotiation with what evolution has taught the brain is most sensible. In particular, the brain doesn’t like to return attention to a place or object it has just left. This phenomenon is called inhibition of return.

In Action

Like negative priming [The Brain Punishes Features that Cry Wolf], which is how contextual features are suppressed from attention, inhibition of return is such a low-level effect that it’s hard to show without precision timing equipment. Again, just like those other effects, it turns up in all kinds of cases because attention is so widely employed.


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