Saturday, June 24, 2023

"Paying Attention May Be More Valuable Than You Think"

I've mentioned the old-timey traders used to say "Pay attention or pay the offer." There might be something to that.

From The Chicago Booth Review, September 16, 2022:

Every day, people make dozens of choices about how to deploy mental effort and where to focus. Do we give attention to work or play? Should we exercise or zone out in front of the TV?

The decisions we make appear to underrate the importance of attention, according to the results of a study. A group of researchers including Chicago Booth’s Eric Zwick find that we often make irrational decisions, undervaluing how much attention is worth relative to distractions.

“Imagine a spectrum between ‘we’re totally lost and clueless’ on one side and ‘we’re a human computer’ on the other,” Zwick explains. “I’d say we’re maybe one-third of the way toward the human computer.”

The “rational inattention” theory assumes that people fully understand the consequences of, say, scrolling through Instagram instead of hunkering down and writing that report—and that we choose where and how best to put our attention. To test it, the researchers ran three experiments that gave people the opportunity to reduce the demands on their mental bandwidth.

For the first experiment, they asked nearly 1,400 US students enrolled in an online coding class to complete three 15-minute coding lessons each week. The students were rewarded monetarily for completing the lessons, with a randomized range of bonuses between $1 and $5. To help make completing the tasks easier, the researchers offered students a plan-making tool to block out three 15-minute windows on their online calendars.

The researchers—interested in nudges that could help people build good habits—find that students who used the tool were more likely to complete the tasks and get the financial reward, but adoption of the tool depended on the incentives. As the incentives for completing the weekly lessons increased, so did the tool-adoption rate. This makes sense: the more you get out of doing something, the more likely you are to invest in making sure you complete the task. However, more participants should have used the planning tool, according to the theory. The fact that they didn’t led researchers to conclude that participants undervalued it.

In the second experiment, the researchers offered financial bonuses to 2,300 participants to complete an online survey....


Some years ago the "Attention Economy" was all the rage. A few of our posts:
The Economics of Attention (how big is the attention economy?)

BoE's Bank Underground on Cellphones: "Is the economy suffering from the crisis of attention?"
"How To Break the Information Age Trance of 'Continuous Partial Attention'"
Focus is easy.
You just have to work on it every minute of the day.
And every five minutes break focus to ask "Is this the highest use of my time?"

So You've Rewired Your Brain To The Point You Can't Read A Book. Idiot
The Business Of Instant Gratification Appears to Have Promise
"As the Economy Gets Ever Better at Satisfying our Immediate, Self-serving Needs, Who is Minding the Future?"
"The Right to Attention in an Age of Distraction"
There is no right to attention.
"Modern Media Is a Denial of Service Attack on Your Free Will"
"Rethinking the Knowledge Economy"
The author, Roberto Mangabeira Unger, was Minister of Strategic Affairs in Lula da Silva government and unlike his former boss is not in prison. Unger hangs his hat at Harvard Law School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
This piece is the short version of what is currently a 304 page book (PDF), available online at the good Professor's personal website.