Attentional Bias – Cognitive Biases (Pt.3)

Attentional bias is when we focus our attention on one specific thing. Cognitively, this is when we focus on one or two possible outcomes instead of seeing more options available.

Physically it’s to focus our attention on a specific sensory stimulus. To focus on one thing at a time is useful. It prevent our brains from being bombarded with multiple sensory inputs and data to process. In terms of survival, something that makes a sound or becomes visible attracts our attention. The attentional bias is about this natural propensity that can blind us to other things in our surroundings.

To see more options available, try to use a correlating table that matches two conditions, A and B, to either Present or Not Present, P or N. There are 4 possibilities with 2 conditions. One thing and another can be both present, both absent, or one or the other present.

A Present A Not Present
B Present AP/BP AN/BP
B Not Present AP/BN AN/BN


The attentional bias involves the beliefs in “the Secret”, and the “New Age” false “Law of Attraction” “positivity”, where you believe you’re “attracting” everything to you. Or saying things are “synchronistic”, which simply means two or more things coincide in time. These are validated from our paying more attention to certain things and how our actions may be involved in it.

An example is when you’re thinking of seeing something, and then you actually notice it by paying attention to it being there. Imagine how infrequently you see a yellow VW Beetle, and then you want and wish to “manifest” more of them in “reality”. You will “see” more of them. This is because you have primed your attention to pay attention and recognition to this appearing in your vision, where as normally it would be ignored and payed little to no attention to.

Someone believes:

“I’m making these cars appear!”
… “because my wishes are being granted by the universe!” … or something.

There are more possibilities. Here are the 4:

“You are there and the car is there.” (AP/BP)
“You are there and the car isn’t there.” (AP/BN)
“You are not there, and the car is there.” (AN/BP)
“You are not there, and neither is the car.” (AN/BN)

They only consider the first option, as the only conclusion, about what could have happened. If the car wasn’t there then this “wishful” thinking would not be in their confirmation bias. You can substitute anything and try to find meaning at the coinciding in time as if it’s your wishes or prayers being answered.

Cognitive Bias Tie-Ins

The attentional bias is involved with the previous two Cognitive Bias posts. “Anchoring Effect” dealt with attention being directed towards one point, blinding us with narrow vision. The post before that was the “Ambiguity effect”, where attention was focused on a more general simplified view that ignored the complex details. The former saw only the trees, and the latter saw only the forest.

Attentional bias is also tied into the fallacy of a “false dichotomy”. This is a way of restricting possible outcomes by limiting attention to 2 choices, normally. When someone sets up a condition, or frames a view, with only 2 possible outcomes, it’s usually a false dichotomy as there is most likely 3 or more possible outcomes through varying choices we can make.

The attentional bias is also tied into what we value and pay attention to, what our actions are directed towards. When we are invested or habituated in doing something, we tend to focus on continuing to do it. It becomes part of who we are. In this sense, to some degree we become what we pay attention to.

Become aware of the bias and recognize it’s use in life. We can change what we pay attention to. We can change ourselves in this respect. Learning about cognitive biases is learning about ourselves.