The Case for Paying Attention
Can we be aware without actually paying attention?
It thus seems that we can’t actually be aware unless we pay attention. True, natural scene awareness is perhaps one of the most automatic and streamlined processes in visual perception — hence the prior results that suggested it might be possible without attention — but if our attention is truly taxed, in a more difficult task than has traditionally been used, we lose even that rapid and basic ability. Yes, awareness may require only minimal attention; but it does require some attention. Nothing happens quite automatically. As the authors put it, “Although there is good reason to believe in attention without awareness, there is no evidence of awareness without attention.” It’s just not that simple. We can be paying attention even though we’re not completely aware of doing so — but we can’t be aware of something if we’re not paying attention to it.
As we multitask more and more and have ever-increasing demands on our attentional streams, such research is increasingly pertinent. For, it goes to the heart of a crucial notion: the limited nature of attention. We only have so much to spare, and each additional element requires some part of a very finite resource. Each new piece comes at a cost.