Selective attention

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Humans are not omniscient and our brains have a limited capacity to process information.[note 1] Due to this fundamental fact, the brain will focus its attention on certain bits of information while ignoring other information. In psychology, this failure to adhere to all of the information will often result in cognitive biases of the "too much information" subtype. In philosophy, this "selective attention" will often result in logical fallacies.

In psychology[edit]

Psychological researchers have various models for how the mind processes information. Donald Broadbent developed a model of selective attention which asserts that the brain uses filters to determine what information it is going to pay attention to. Treisman argued that instead of a filter, the brain uses an attenuator, which is sort of like the volume controls on a television and a radio that have broken mute buttons. If you want to listen to the television, then one turns up the volume of the television and one turns down the volume on the radio. Once the television has gone to a commercial break, you turn down the volume on the television and turn up the volume of the radio. There are also memory selection and resource selection models of selective attention.[1][2]

In philosophy[edit]

Given that people's brains are limited in the amount of information that they can process, the failure to accurately process information can result in logical fallacies. This failure can occur either consciously or unconsciously.

The availability heuristic describes how the brain notices and/or recalls certain facts more easily than other facts. This can result in fallacies such as the toupée fallacy, which describes how people may have a mistaken idea about the effectiveness of toupées as they see bad toupées more easily than good ones. Other examples are misleading vividness which describes how dramatic events are more easily recalled than more mundane ones, and the spotlight fallacy which describes how highly publicized events are more easily recalled. The historian's fallacy is also closely associated with the availability heuristic. This fallacy occurs when people judge things from the information that they easily recall without taking into account the fact that people in the past would have had a different set of information available to them. These types of fallacies are often unconscious.

The cherry picking fallacy, on the other hand, is a conscious fallacy. This fallacy occurs when one chooses to focus on facts and examples that support one's hypothesis or belief and ignore those facts and examples that contradict it. Examples of sub-fallacies are the apex fallacy when one focuses on the best or worst individuals of a group to make generalizations about the whole group, and a lack of proportion, which occurs when one downplays the importance of evidence that contradicts one's position and overemphasizes the importance of the evidence that supports it. Other fallacies closely associated with cherry-picking are arguments from selective reading which occur when someone only tries to counteract the weakest arguments made by an opponent rather than the ones they know that they can't refute, and oversimplification when one ignores the more complicated aspects of an issue to focus on the simpler aspects of it. This page is guilty of oversimplification to some limited degree as the details of selective attention are complex. We apologize.

Confirmation bias can be conscious or unconscious. This fallacy occurs when one focuses on the information that supports one’s hypotheses and ignores the information that contradicts it. It will often incorporate availability heuristic fallacies and/or cherry picking fallacies.

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