How much information do you pay attention to each day, and how much passes you by?

This was a question that intrigued Danish science writer Tor Nørretranders, and his research turned up some interesting numbers. Nørretranders estimates that our senses (particularly our eyes) pour information into our brain at the rate of around 11 million bytes (11 Megabytes) per second. However, most of this is filtered out by our subconscious, as the conscious part of our brain can only process around 70 bytes per second.

It’s the reason why athletes can flawlessly perform complex actions reflexively (subconsciously), but will often mess up the same move if they think about it too much and try to do things consciously. The conscious brain is accurate but too slow to do a good job in this situation.

So what does this mean for us in our daily lives? From a wellbeing perspective, it’s a good reminder that our reality is created from the things we pay attention to. If someone pays attention to all the bad things happening in the world, chances are that they will see the world as a bad and crazy place. However, if someone chooses to pay attention to the beauty and goodness in the world, chances are that they will view the world as a good and beautiful place.

The good news is that we can train our subconscious to pay more attention to certain things compared to others. Ever notice that when you buy a new car you suddenly become aware of the same model of car passing you on the road, whereas previously this wouldn’t have registered? It’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the things in the world that you choose to pay attention to and evaluate the effect this has on your world view and wellbeing.

Mark Hassell
Dean of Students