The formative role of evolutionary pressures in everyday attending

Evolutionary theory allows us to consider and appreciate the body-mind as an ecological system developed in the service of meeting our human needs, the most primal of which are for survival and reproduction. And the advantages bestowed by some measure of safety in supporting survival has given rise to the attendant second-order social needs for relationships, power, and status that exert such entangled pressures, shaping the cooperative-competitive creatures we have evolved to be. Given that our senses and nervous system detect and process large amounts of possibly useful information, attention—the capacity to consciously experience some portion of this information—is vital in the system’s design for meeting our needs.

This capacity to focus attending resources and give priority to parts of experience perceived as supporting, or having the potential to support, our human needs has clear survival value. And accomplishing this with reactive immediacy rather than through more slowly-operating deliberative cognitive functions bestows even greater value. Unfortunately, even as this automatic and rapidly moving attention serves its vigilance function by highlighting threats and opportunities for the satisfaction of needs, we experience an attendant downside in the affective realm.

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