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The Need for Attention


Explanations > Needs > The Need for Attention

Need | Example | Related to | Discussion |  So what?




We all have a deep need for the attention of others. When other people look at us, when they listen and value us, we feel good. Even aggressive or punitive attention may be better than no attention.

When we seek attention and are ignored, we may increase our efforts, for example by becoming emotional, physically touching the other person or acting in ways that will annoy them.


A young man enjoys the company of attractive women and woos them using a limited amount of flattering attention, always being careful not to seem desperate.

A teacher is careful to give attention to all students, not just the naughty ones.

An advertiser pushes a fragrance as being particularly helpful in gaining attention from potential partners.

Related to




The importance of attention starts when we are very young and we are unable to feed or protect ourselves. All we can do is wail and hope for help. Attention is also important at this stage (and later) in connecting and forming bonds with other people.

When we feel we have too little attention, we seek it. This can become dysfunctional when it dominates a person's life and when those from who attention is sought find demands tiring, distressing or simply annoying.  Attention-seeking can thus become problematic and pathologies such as narcissistic personality disorder and Munchausen syndrome can result. People may even self-harm in order to gain attention.

When others pay attention to us, they connect us together, expanding our sense of identity. Their attention may also show esteem and give us some sense of status as they recognize us as worthy of their attention. In the opposite sense, it is depressing and quite possibly insulting when others ignore us, particularly when we are in conversation with them. To deny attention is to deny the person's existence, effectively diminishing their sense of identity.

The giving and gaining of attention hence becomes a game and may be used as a power play, with power-seekers using attention as a kind of reward as those who feel weaker seeking attention as an affirmation. This happens when we feel that powerful people have larger spheres of identity and that others can somehow expand their own smaller spheres by connecting with those with larger spheres.

Our conscious minds are pretty linear in operation and we hence have a limited ability to focus on our surroundings (or even our inner thoughts). While we can spread our attention wide, for example as we scan the environment for threats, when we find something of interest, attention zooms into that one thing. This makes attention a limited resource, which can make it even more desirable.

So what?

Tacitly offer attention as a reward for complying with request. Give them pleasant attention, then ask for something while suggesting you will give more attention afterwards, for example by saying how grateful you will be.

See also

Attention, Power, Scarcity principle

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