The attentional bias is the tendency of our recurring thoughts to affect our perception.
We have limited capacity for attention, and multitasking is a myth. We can only do one thing at a time. When we ‘multitask’, we are switching our attention rapidly between different things. It isn't possible to truly attend to several things at once.
Some fail to notice remarkable changes in their environment while thinking about something else. "Change blindness" is the name given to this condition.
In one example, researchers asked people in the street for directions. While talking, someone walked between them to divert attention. Many didn't notice a completely different person replaced the original questioner.
Some people failed to notice when the person asking for directions changed gender in those few seconds!
Our Thoughts Influence Perception
Our internal thoughts have a very strong ability to influence our judgement and perception. We are very good at not attending to things which don’t interest us, or don’t seem to fit in with our perceptions.
We also tend to project our interests and thoughts onto situations where they may not be relevant. When we are hyperfocused on something, we tend to see the subject of our focus everywhere.
A good example of attentional bias is something almost everyone will have experienced. Although we have never been interested in a particular TV show, make of car, celebrity, etc., as soon as we become interested, that show, car, or person suddenly seems to be everywhere.
In reality the frequency of our experience of them has not changed; we simply didn’t notice them before. We weren’t attuned to their presence. Once we tune in, we can’t get away from them.
If Meaningful to Me, It Must be to Everyone - Right?
We tend to make judgments based on the most noticeable information. If something is meaningful to us, we naturally give it more weight to begin with. In addition, the importance of this particular aspect is constantly reinforced by our perceiving it over and over again.
We (often wrongly) assume, because it seems to be everywhere, that our particular interest is of equally vast importance to everybody else. People are different in the degree to which they present cognitive biases, Those with strong attentional bias, who tend to see everything in the light of their own special interests, are not only prone to errors of judgement, but terribly boring conversationalists.
When people make the social error of talking endlessly about their children, pets, illnesses, or new car, they are demonstrating attentional bias. The error in judgement is their belief that everybody else is as interested in their kid, dog, backache, or Prius as they are.