Attention must be paid
How come that sometimes seems
so VERY hard to do?
© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
from the Self-Health Series
Attentional Bias and FOCUS
“Executive functioning” is an umbrella term for the management (regulation, control) of cognitive processes, including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, and problem solving  as well as planning, and execution. (also known as cognitive control and the supervisory attentional system) ~ Wikipedia
Central to the idea of “control” is the concept of intentional FOCUS.
Intentional focus means exactly that — you can focus where you want, when you want, for as long as you want — and shift focus to something new (and BACK again) any time you want. (see The Dynamics of Attending for the implications of on that idea)
Can anybody really DO that?
Those of us with Alphabet Disorders don’t usually kid ourselves that we are the absolute rulers of our skip-to-my-Lou minds. But even those of you who feel that you do fairly well in that regard might be surprised at how often your focus is skewed unintentionally through a concept known as attentional bias.
About attentional bias, Wikipedia says it is a term commonly used to describe the unconscious inclination to note emotionally dominant stimuli more quickly and prominently, effectively “neglecting” factors that do not comply with the initial area of interest.
The concept implies that stimuli that do not comply with the emotionally dominant stimuli will be “neglected,” reducing our attention toward a great number of the many things coming our way — and ultimately negatively affecting our ability to prioritize action in ways we might ultimately prefer.
Sort of, but not really
While it certainly seems to be true that anything that “hooks us emotionally” will pull our focus away from more neutral stimuli, other reasons for attentional bias exist.
More accurately, attentional bias describes the tendency for a particular type of stimuli to capture attention, the familiar “over-riding” the importance of other input.
For example, in studies using the dot-probe paradigm (a computer-assisted test used by cognitive psychologists to assess selective attention), patients with anxiety disorders and chronic pain show increased attention to angry and painful facial expressions. 
But we’ll also see increased attention to an item written in a bold color (or in a person’s favorite color), to names similar to our own among a list of names (or that of a close relative), or a familiar sound mixed intermittently with less familiar sounds.
Scientists believe that attentional bias has a significant effect on a great many items we must deal with moment-by-moment, which tends to have an exacerbating impact on quite a few “conditions.”
Some of those “conditions” include depression, anxiety, chronic pain, eating disorders and other addictions, and many other areas that might not, at first glance, seem related – like task-anxiety and follow-through to completion.
Extensively explored by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman and frequent collaborator Amos Tversky, the concept of cognitive bias explains something that most of us have readily observed, and frequently struggle to explain —
The actions of human beings aren’t always rational!