Why do you turn the volume down when you need to see better?

6th June 2018

We all do it. You’re driving along with Kesha blaring out of the speakers, chatting to your co-pilot, and have one eye on the sat nav so you don’t miss your junction… again.

But now, you turn off the dual carriageway onto a country road. Things are getting a bit harder now so you turn Kesha down. There’s lots of twists and turns on this road and for some reason, you need quiet.

Now, as you pull onto your friend’s road you notice that the only space for you to park is tiny. Now, not only are you turning Kesha off completely, but your co-pilot has been asked to be quiet too. You need complete silence. Why though?

To understand that, we need to take a little detour into what attention is and how it works.

This is very summarised and based on my psychology lectures from 2nd year of uni.

What is attention?

Attention is the ability to focus on the information you’re receiving from different stimuli and processes. Sometimes, you can do this automatically but other times you have to do it manually.

Spatial vs feature-based attention

Spatial attention is the kind of attention you pay (or don’t pay) to regions (like the bit of the webpage where the adverts live). You’ve trained yourself to disregard areas of the screen where adverts live so you can focus your attention on to a web pages content.

Feature-based attention means you’re directing your attention to a particular feature (like colour, sound etc). This is why we make CTA buttons nice bright colours to draw a users attention.

Types of attention

So there are different types of attention which you’re using all the time. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to keep everything pretty high level and basic.

Selective attention

This is the kind of attention that you use to decide if something is important. Its automatic and you don’t have any control over what it decides needs your attention. For example, if your bin suddenly goes on fire, you’ll start paying attention to it. This will trump the pen you dropped on the floor.

Divided attention

You as a human, are pretty smart. You’re able to do more than one thing at once. Divided attention is what gives you the ability to drive along the road while chatting with your friend, and keeping an eye on the car overtaking you. But, what happens when you see brake lights ahead… lots of them? Well, in that case, your attention becomes…

Focused attention

This is when all your attention is focused on one thing. A fire, a car accident, that bump in the night when everything else is quiet.

Sustained attention

This is probably the most boring types, basically, this is the kind of attention you’re using when you’re doing something over and over and over again.

Attention is a limited resource!

You’ve only got so much you can give! Each of your senses has some in reserve for it to use. This means it can be easier for you to chat to your friend while you’re driving (seeing and hearing) than it is for you to drive and look at your phone (seeing and… seeing).

Imagine you’ve got 10 balls representing your available attention. Four of them, are being used for driving. Three for the conversation with your friend, two for your satnav, and the remaining one for keeping an eye on the lorry in the overtaking lane.

As your satnav starts talking to you, you stop talking to your friend. Two of the conversation balls go to driving and the other one for the satnav. The more you need to focus on driving, the less attention you’ll pay to other things. As drinving gets more complicated, you’ll stop paying attention to non important things, like the Kesha you’ve got playing. But, noise is pretty good at getting your attention, so you decide to turn it down.

And this ladies and gentlemen is why you turn the radio down so you can see better.