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Size and Attention


Explanations > Perception > Attention > Size and Attention

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



One of the ways that grab visual attention is when there are big things that can be seen. Attention may be grabbed just by pure size, or by something that seems bigger than we might have expected it to be.

When something big is close, it fills our field of vision, or at least takes up a sizeable proportion of this. More distant things may still be found to be big, such as mountains, and may well hold our attention purely because they seem so enormous.


A big person standing near us is more likely to gain our attention than somebody who is smaller (all else being equal).

Photographs that include a rock, a tree or something that is bigger than other items in the photo will attract attention first to the larger item. After viewing this, the eye may then wander around other things in the picture.

We stand next to a circus marquee and look up, marvelling at how big it is. The vertical stripes on the tent guide our eyes upwards, emphasizing this effect.


When something fills our field of vision, or at least covers a significant part of it, we have little option but to notice it. Making anything big consequently makes it more obvious and gains attention. Note however, that 'big' is not as important as 'biggest'. When there are a number of large things to look at, although we may look at each in turn, the largest item will usually grab our attention first and hold it for longest.

When something is close it will appear bigger than if were distant. Proximity also gains attention as we scan things close to us to check whether or not they could be dangerous. This especially applies to people who loom into the private personal space close to our bodies.

Size is often a metaphor for power and when we see big things, from big people to big mountains, we are awed by them and we respond as to other power objects. This may well be fear, especially if poses a threat, such as from an avalanche or a large, approaching predator.

Marketers often use big things to grab attention. This can be seen in such as large hoardings, big stands at exhibitions, big lettering in adverts and so on.

So what?

Use size to grab attention. If you have one thing that is far bigger than other things around, it will be the first thing that people will look at. You can also combine this with other attentional factors such as bright hues, novel shapes and so on.

Also remember to think about what happens to the eye after it is grabbed by the large item. Where does it go next?

See also

Threat and Attention

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