Strengthening Your Ability To Pay Attention with Winifred Gallagher

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There is no "attention center" in the brain. So where is our capacity for sustained focus located? Research shows us that the brain is an ensemble of alerting, orienting, and executive networks collaborating to attune us to what's going on in our inner or outer world in coherent ways that point us toward an appropriate response. Most of us don’t understand that attention is a finite resource, like money, so it pays for us to focus on what is more positive and productive. You can make a choice between focusing on something that is productive or generative or on something that is a poor use of your time, and is non-productive. Referencing research, Gallagher says that "The people who are in a positive emotional state see much more - their peripheral vision is larger. They literally see what we call 'the big picture,' and not only visually but also psychologically. They are in a better position to consider options; they have more choices; they can make better decisions." (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Winifred Gallagher is a behavior science writer.

Her books include:

To learn more about the work of Winifred Gallagher go to

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • What happens in your brain when you focus on something
  • What is the difference between bottom up attention and top down attention
  • Why do certain things "grab" your attention
  • What are the implications in choosing how to spend our finite amount of attention
  • What are the two things that characterize a sense of flow in your life
  • Why we should not let our machines, iPods, Blackberries, cell phones choose our focus for us
  • How the nature of attention leads us to occupy the same space, but live in different worlds
  • Why we are much more likely to focus on what we might have to give up rather than what we have to gain
  • What is the relationship between attention and motivation

Host: Justine Willis Toms     Interview Date: 4/29/2009     Program Number: 3306

Music Playlist

From Album: Secret Story
Artist: Pat Metheny
1992 Geffen Records #GEFD-24468

Opening Essay: Track 03 Cathedral in a Suitcase
Music Break 1: Track 02 Facing West
Music Break 2: Track 10 As a Flower Blossoms
Music Break 3: Track 04 Finding and Believing