After providing all the funding for The Brain from Top to Bottom for over 10 years, the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction informed us that because of budget cuts, they were going to be forced to stop sponsoring us as of March 31st, 2013.

We have approached a number of organizations, all of which have recognized the value of our work. But we have not managed to find the funding we need. We must therefore ask our readers for donations so that we can continue updating and adding new content to The Brain from Top to Bottom web site and blog.

Please, rest assured that we are doing our utmost to continue our mission of providing the general public with the best possible information about the brain and neuroscience in the original spirit of the Internet: the desire to share information free of charge and with no adverstising.

Whether your support is moral, financial, or both, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Bruno Dubuc, Patrick Robert, Denis Paquet, and Al Daigen

Monday, 29 February 2016
When Advertisements Steal Our Attention

A New York Times article by Matthew B. Crawford, entitled “The Cost of Paying Attention” (first link below) analyzes the way that the public space is being invaded by advertising. First, he points out that attention is a limited cognitive resource. He shows how private businesses are waging a veritable war to appropriate our “private head space” with advertising messages, thus making it harder and harder for us to resist these constant, alienating “bottom-up” stimuli and exercise “top-down” control over our own thoughts. In this process, says Crawford, we are losing something vital: “Just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.”

Certainly, it’s not impossible to think in the subway despite all the aggressive advertising messages coming at us from the outside world. But we may not be able to think so deeply. Or if we put on our headphones to try to distract our attention from these messages, we may also be less able to explore the world around us. Listening to our favourite music on our headsets is one way to create an oasis of relative tranquillity, but has the side-effect of making it very hard for us to socialize, because it reduces our ability to pay even the minimum amount of attention needed to interact spontaneously with other people.

Combined with the visual pollution of all this advertising, vehicle noise in modern cities creates especially hostile conditions that we try to tolerate by closing ourselves off in our bubbles of music. The public space thus becomes a battleground for capitalist businesses. Not content simply to threaten our physical health by profiting from laws that protect them even at the expense of our right to healthy food, these companies are now colonizing our very brains, intruding further and further into the public space and thus upsetting our mental equilibrium.

I can remember the inner calm that came over me suddenly one day as I got off the bus and began walking down a small residential street on my way to teach a class. Lofty trees, houses, snow, a crow whose caw was a harbinger of spring—all combined to restore my inner peace. It reminds me of a classic study published by Roger Ulrich in the journal Science in 1984, in which he showed that post-surgical patients whose hospital windows looked out on trees recovered more quickly than patients whose windows looked out on a brick wall (see second link below). It also reminds me of a more recent study, on the calming effects of looking at bodies of water (third link below).

Crawford’s article also describes the sensation of well-being that flooded over him just a few minutes after he had entered an airport’s business lounge, with its muffled silence and advertisement-free walls. Such advertisement-free space is now a rare commodity, and so, of course, you have to pay to get it. Ironically, Crawford notes, once inside the business lounge, you’ll be crossing paths with those same fortunate people whose companies treat your attention as a resource for them to exploit.

And the intrusions won’t stop there, if plans like those described in the French-language article at the fourth link below come to fruition. The article’s title translates roughly as “Advertising All the Time, Everywhere: Google Describes the Hell It Has in Store for You.” The final paragraph ends on this sombre note: “[our translation] The trend now is to pay for your peace and quiet. If you won’t want to see any ads, then pay for a premium service or switch to pay services that don’t depend on this system. People who don’t want to hear the siren song of consumption will have to pay a price, leaving those who cannot afford to do so helpless.” Freedom of thought as a premium service—a chilling prospect, to say the least.

i_lien The Cost of Paying Attention
a_lien View through a window may influence recovery from surgery
i_lien Blue Mind – looking at water improves your health and calm
i_lien De la pub partout et tout le temps : Google vous décrit l’enfer

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