The Science of Capturing People’s Attention, with Expert Attention-Getter Ben Parr

The author of a new book about attention explains the three distinct kinds: immediate, short, and long. To capture someone's attention, you have to see these three as stages into a person's subconscious.

Ben Parr: Attention is the common currency across all business. It's the most important currency you can have. Attention comes in many forms, which is part of the reason I studied it so much. There's the attention for if you turn your head because you hear a gunshot; there’s attention for if you start concentrating on a speaker, and there's the type of attention that makes people long-term fans of a company like Apple or a celebrity like Beyoncé. And so attention has become more and more important over the last, especially the last 10 years because there's so much more information than ever being produced. In the last two years alone approximately 90 percent of the world's information was created and we still have the same 24 hours of time. And so it's more important than ever whether you're a teacher or an entrepreneur or a businessperson to capture the attention of others.

Immediate attentions are short-term and immediate and an unconscious and subconscious reaction to certain sights, sounds, and other stimuli. You can have certain things that will capture their immediate attention — certain colors, certain symbols, certain sounds.

Short attention is our short-term conscious concentration on a subject or an idea or an object. It's the kind of attention that you give when you're concentrating on an episode of Game of Thrones or you're listening to a keynote speaker or you're looking at a news article. It's the type of attention where we decide we're going to pay attention to something. And what's really important about that is making sure that something is — it really focuses on novelty and focuses on things that are new. And so long attention, which is the final stage of attention, really focuses on that long-term interest in a subject, person, or idea. Unlike short attention, which is focused on short-term concentration on maybe an episode of House of Cards, long attention is becoming a lifelong fan and watching every single season. It's rather than just buying, like listening to a Beyoncé song on the radio, it's buying all her albums. Long attention is about that long-term interest and really focuses on what you're familiar with and becoming really, really ingrained with a subject or an idea.

You have to think of attention as three stages and you have to capture attention by going through the three stages: immediate attention, to short attention, to long-term attention. And we've got to start with the first to the second to the third and that's the secret to capturing attention.

An ad for a new television show catches your eyes. Your immediate attention is captured. You watch the first episode and enjoy it. Your short attention has been captured. You devote yourself to the show, buy every season, read every relevant page on Wikipedia, and get the main character's face tattooed on your sternum. Your long attention has been captured. Marketers take advantage of the scientific secrets behind attention to get you hooked on their products. Ben Parr, author of the new book Captivology, explains that these principles are essential to building a lasting brand.

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Matthew Yglesias and moderator Charles Duhigg explore the idea on Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?

Keep reading Show less

The surprising future of vaccine technology

We owe a lot to vaccines and the scientists that develop them. But we've only just touched the surface of what vaccines can do.

  • "Vaccines are the best thing science has ever given us," says Larry Brilliant, founding president and acting chairman of Skoll Global Threats. From smallpox, to Ebola, to polio, scientists have successful fought viruses and saved millions of lives. So what's next?
  • As Covaxx (formerly United Neuroscience) cofounder Lou Reese explains in this video, the issue with vaccines is that they don't work against "non-external threats." This is a problem, especially now when internal threats (things that cause cancers, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses) are killing people more than external threats like viruses.
  • The future of vaccine tech, which scientists are already working toward today, is developing safe vaccines to eradicate these destructive internal agents without harming our bodies in the process.

Keep reading Show less

Think everyone died young in ancient societies? Think again

In fact, the maximum human lifespan has barely changed since we arrived.

Photo by Juliet Furst on Unsplash
Surprising Science

You might have seen the cartoon: two cavemen sitting outside their cave knapping stone tools. One says to the other: 'Something's just not right – our air is clean, our water is pure, we all get plenty of exercise, everything we eat is organic and free-range, and yet nobody lives past 30.'

Keep reading Show less

Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

Surprising Science
  • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
  • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
  • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
Keep reading Show less

Why social media has changed the world — and how to fix it

MIT Professor Sinan Aral's new book, "The Hype Machine," explores the perils and promise of social media in a time of discord.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images for Somerset House
Technology & Innovation

Are you on social media a lot? When is the last time you checked Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram? Last night? Before breakfast? Five minutes ago?

Keep reading Show less