(Trigger warning for discussion of Middle Ages experiment involving child neglect)
Without nutrients of any kind we will die, and the human need for attention is no different.
This is shown by a horrific experiment in the Middle Ages by the Roman and German Emperor, Frederick II, who had newborn babies removed from their
parents and cared for by nurses who fed and cleaned them but were under
strict instructions not to touch, talk or give them any attention
whatsoever in an attempt to satisfy the emperor’s curiosity as to what
language the children would speak if they didn’t hear a native tongue.
The experiment was never resolved, as all the babies died from lack of
attention before reaching talking age.
The phenomenon of attention needs has always been well understood in
Eastern psychology but has only recently been equally as valued by the
West. A 1927 study into productivity performed by the Western Electric
Company plant in Hawthorne near Chicago found that difference in the
ways they treated employees was the amount of attention they were giving
them, not taking 5 minute rest breaks or going home at 4pm. This became
known as the Hawthorne effect. (Mayo, E 1933 The Human Problems of an
Industrial Civilization. Macmillan)
We all know that people draw attention to themselves in myriad ways -
by being the most stylish, fashionable or expensively dressed, or the
noisiest and most noticed at social gatherings. Some exhibit eccentric
behaviours, wear garish clothes, sport deliberately odd hairstyles,
boast about their achievements etc. But the lure of attention seeking
can be far more subtle than that. People are attracted, far more often
than they realise, to situations that provide opportunities for getting
Many social and commercial transactions are in fact disguised
attention situations, and if individuals are unaware that what is
driving them in certain circumstances is the demanding, exchanging,
extending or exchange of attention, believing they are engaged in
something else - such as learning, informing, helping, buying or selling
- they are likely to be less efficient in achieving their ends (both
those they think they are serving and their attention needs) and will be
less able to act and react in ways that are appropriate to a situation,
whatever that is.
In becoming aware of how your attention needs are being met it’s important to realise:
1) That this attention-factor is operating in virtually all transactions;
2) That the apparent motivation of transactions may be other than it
really is. And that is often generated by the need or desire for
attention-activity (giving, receiving exchanging);
3) That attention-activity, like any other demand for food, warmth
etc, when placed under volitional control, must result in increased
scope for the human being who would then not be at the mercy of random
sources of attention - or even more confused than usual if things should
not pan out as expected.
This is a profoundly more subtle understanding of the importance of attention than found in Western psychology until now.
It's worth considering how your need to give and receive attention is being met in your life at the moment.
Here are some questions to ask yourself about attention:
Do you feel like you receive enough attention?
Do you give other people significant attention?
Are you often around attention seeking people who seem to drain you of energy?
Are you around people who are genuinely interested in what you think?
Do you spend a lot of time alone, by choice or not?
Do you feel too shy to get the attention you need?
Do you get attention in healthy or unhealthy ways?
Do you get attention through behaving dramatically, being emotional and creating scenes?
If so, have you considered that you might be an emotional tyrant?
Do you really listen when people talk to you, or just hear what you expect they are saying?
Do you enjoy being the centre of attention?
Do you dislike being the centre of attention?
Can you separate out your need for attention from the activities you are involved in, such as sport, politics, community work, attending meetings or a church?
Read more about your human need for attention on our lift depression website.