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Sensitivity and Attention


Explanations > Perception > Attention > Sensitivity and Attention

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



To gain attention, direct information not just at the senses of the other person, but also to where they are most sensitive. For example, you might:

  • Use hues to which the eye is more sensitive (reds and yellows).
  • Use fully-saturated hues (saturation).
  • Use bright shades with full luminance (brightness).
  • Use loud sounds.
  • Make noises that sound like a human cry.
  • Use pungent smells.
  • Use strong tastes.


A magazine uses a headline for a lead article that is written in large, red letters.

A market trader shrieks 'Oh no!' This gets attention so he can start his sales patter.

A child cries to get attention. Parents are programmed by nature to become tense at the sound of their child's cry.


Our senses are non-linear in that they do not respond at the same level to every stimulation. In vision and hearing, this is about frequency response, where our eyes and ears respond differently to different frequencies of light and vibration. The eyes see the visible spectrum (390 to 700 nm) but respond more to reds and yellows. The ears can hear from about 20Hz to 20,000 Hz , but are particularly attuned to the range of the human voice (about 300Hz to 3000Hz). High-pitched sounds can also feel particularly piercing.

There is also the question of intensity. Shades can be bright. Sounds can be loud. Tastes and smells can be strong. When we make something intense, it grabs our attention.

Sensitivity effects can be enhanced by starting with low stimulation, such as quiet sounds and muted shades, and then suddenly switch to more intense and attractive sounds and hues. Make them first strain to sense something weak, then grab them with more intense stimulation. This uses the Contrast principle to make the stimulation seem even greater.

There is also a reverse effect here as our eyes and other senses move away from dark, dull and low contrast regions in our sensory environment.

Note also that while there are common physiological sensitivities, different people have different preferences around attention and senses, and while for many the visual sense is dominant, others pay more attention to sounds or even physical feelings.

So what?

When presenting something to other people, consider each of their five senses and where these are most sensitive. Then play to their sensitivities. Beware in doing this of driving them away. You want their attention, not for them to flee from your onslaught.

See also

Contrast principle, Surprise principle, Stimulation


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