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Attention: An Interdisciplinary Workshop

Investigating attention and its role in society

Interrogating the crisis of attention

This workshop will serve as a forum for researchers and practitioners interested in attention to engage meaningfully with each other's work and ideas. It seeks to contrast theories, findings and insights about attention with a particular focus on the potential impact of these ideas on society at large.

To this end, the event seeks to bring together academics from a wide range of disciplines in the social and behavioural sciences, arts and the humanities, as well as professionals in the technology, mental health, educational and policy sectors.

  • Date and time: 14th and 15th September 2022, 2pm – 6:30pm (BST) on both days
  • Place:
    London School of Economics and Political Science
    Room CBG 1.04 (Centre Building)
  • Online: Zoom links will be sent to registered participants

Workshop Theme

Decreasing attention spans. Social media addiction. Persuasive design and ‘nudge’ policymaking. Mindfulness in schools. The present moment is one of deep anxiety about attention and its potential manipulation by technologies old and new. Despite a keen interest in attention running as a common thread between numerous disciplines and professional fields, attempts to explore points of interconnection, possible syntheses and avenues for cross-disciplinary collaboration remain rare.

This leaves important questions unexplored. How might, for example, research by ethnographers and historians into how habits and practices of attention vary across cultures and times inform thorny debates in psychology and philosophy into the nature of attention and its role in human action? Or, on the other hand, how might attempts in psychology and neuroscience to empirically study attention, aiming to describe and understand its core and universal properties, inform social scientific research grappling with a phenomenon that appears central to cultural, political and economic processes and yet is very difficult to delineate and observe?



Session 1: What Is Attention?

14th of September 2022 – 2:20pm to 3:30pm

The workshop will begin with a series of papers exploring the nature of attention, a term that appears to have a plain and obvious meaning, but which on closer inspection evades easy definition. The presentations and subsequent discussion will investigate whether attention is a coherent analytic category, what are, if any, its essential properties, and whether there are inconsistencies in current understandings of the term. The session will also explore how models, theories and understandings of attention’s nature can vary across cultures.


What Attention Is and Why it Matters
Sebastian Watzl
Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas – University of Oslo

Attention Across Two Cultures: Divergent Models and Metaphors
Rahul Rose
Department of Anthropology – LSE

Towards a Synthetic Psychology of ‘Attention’
Bernhard Hommel
Institute of Psychology – Leiden University

Presentations followed by round table discussion.


Britt Anderson
Centre for Theoretical Neuroscience – University of Waterloo

Christopher Mole
Department of Philosophy – The University of British Columbia

Session 2: Studying Attention in the Lab and in the Wild

14th of September 2022 – 4:00pm to 6:30pm 
(including short breaks at 5:00pm and 5:45pm approx.)

Building on prior discussions about the nature of attention, the presentations in this session will explore how attention can be studied. The presentations draw directly from empirical research conducted in the laboratory and in the real world, examining how elusive aspects of attention can be unlocked through particular and novel methodological approaches. The subsequent round table discussion will elaborate on these elements, foregrounding cross- disciplinary disjunctions and synergies, revealing assumptions embedded in the different approaches and sketching potential routes towards a better understanding attention.


Measuring Attention Ethologically: How an Interdisciplinary Team of Social Data Scientists and Anthropologists Measured Attention in the Field
August Lohse, Emilie Munch Gregersen and Sofie Læbo Astrupgaard
Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science (SODAS) – University of Copenhagen

‘Inattentional Neglect’ as a Means of Investigating Lifelike Attentional Capture in Vision, Hearing and Touch
Polly Dalton
Attention Lab – Royal Holloway, University of London

What Does Misdirection Tell us about Attention?
Gustav Kuhn
MAGIC Lab – Goldsmiths, University of London

Evangelical Habits of Attention: Fierce Mindfulness and Listening Meditation
Josh Brahinsky
Berkeley Social Interaction Laboratory, Psychology – UC Berkeley

Fieldwork in the Silence: A Protocol for (Auto)ethnographic Research on Meta-attentional Practices
Malene Hornstrup Jespersen and Kristoffer Albris
Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science (SODAS) – University of Copenhagen 

Studying Attention ‘in Situ’: A Case for Subjective Evidence-Based Ethnography (SEBE) as a Means to Capture Attention as Individuals Experience it
Maxi Heitmayer and Atrina Oraee
Department of Psychological and Behavioural Science – LSE

Tracking Sound and Listening to Tracks
Hermione Spriggs
Slade School of Fine Art and Department of Anthropology – University College London

Presentations followed by round table discussion.


Sophie Forster
Sussex Attention Lab – University of Sussex

Morten Axel Pedersen
Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science (SODAS) – University of Copenhagen

Session 3: Why Attention Matters

15th of September 2022 – 2:00pm to 3:30pm

The second day of the workshop focuses on the vital role that attention plays in the cultural, political and economic lives of contemporary societies. To that end, this session will explore why attention matters in a broad range of contexts, from inequality and creativity to disaster relief efforts. The papers in this session take diverse methodological approaches, but each speaks to the centrality of attention for understanding society, showing how 'paying attention to attention’ (Cook 2018) might provide a novel perspective on complex problems and issues. This overarching topic will be the focus of the round table discussion.


Creativity and Attention, in Anthropology and in the Wa State
Hans Steinmüller
Department of Anthropology – LSE

Attentional Shifts in Long-term Disaster Response: An Examination of the Exceptional
Devin Flaherty
Department of Anthropology – The University of Texas at San Antonio

Fair Shares and Selective Attention
Davide Domenico Pace
Center for Research in Experimental Economics and Political Decision Making (CREED) – University of Amsterdam

Bridging in Attention-Allocation Systems
Luke Thorburn
UKRI Centre for Doctoral Training in Safe and Trusted AI – King's College London

Presentations followed by round table discussion.


Julia Cassaniti
Department of Anthropology – Washington State University

Session 4: The Attention Economy: An Impending Crisis?

15th of September 2022 – 3.50pm to 6:20pm
(including short breaks at 4:30pm and 5:30pm approx.)

The present moment is one of deep anxiety about attention and its potential manipulation by technologies old and new. The final session brings together scholars from a range of disciplines - from law to economics through anthropology, philosophy and literary studies - to interrogate the present 'crisis of attention'. As such, the session will incorporate divergent perspectives on the attention economy and technological distraction. This includes papers that seek to understand the perceived crisis, its causes and possible solutions, as well as papers that take a more deflationary approach, looking for value in states of inattention and employing a longer historical framework. This will provide a varied foundation for the final round table discussion, creating a fertile environment for novel interdisciplinary syntheses and understandings of the contemporary moment.


Frame Problems in the Age of Attention Scarcity
Christopher J. Watts
Independent Researcher

From Data to Attention Infrastructures: Regulating Extraction in the Attention Platform Economy
Elettra Bietti
NYU School of Law and Digital Life Initiative at Cornell Tech

Personalization: Building Attention Subjects within the Digital Attention Economy
Eva Iris Otto
Copenhagen Center for Social Data Science (SODAS) – University of Copenhagen

A Brief Introduction to Rational Inattention
Mark Dean
Department of Economics – Columbia University

Reading Attention in Contemporary Literary Studies
Alice Bennett
Department of English – Liverpool Hope University

Distraction Reconstructed
Marion Thain and Edmund Sonuga-Barke
Centre for Attention Studies at King’s (ASK) – King’s College London

Presentations followed by round table discussion.


Nick Seaver
Department of Anthropology – Tufts University

James Williams
Writer and Technology Ethicist



To register, please email AttentionWorkshop@gmail.com with the following information:

  • Full name and academic/professional affiliation
  • Whether you will be joining us in London or attending online (only a very limited number of in person places are available.)

There is no registration fee



This event is funded by the Department of Anthropology of the London School of Economics and Political Science


The Attention Network (TAN) AttentionForum

Inattention is often cast in purely -ve terms. But scholars coming from v different perspectives are complicating t… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

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The Attention Network (TAN) AttentionForum

Is it possible to write a history of mind wandering? This is what a team of researchers have attempted in a projec… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

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