What Is Attention Economics?

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  • Written By: Daniel Liden
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2019
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Attention economics is a theory of human attention and information processing that treats human attention as a limited resource that must be carefully managed. This theory of attention and information processing is highly relevant in a variety of fields, including advertising, web design, and management. In web design, for instance, a designer who follows attention economics might attempt to design a site with minimal distractions in order to ensure that the site user's attention is directed to the right places. The web designer wants to make sure the user spends his limited attention only on what he wants him to see. It is, essentially, an economic trade of attention for some form of information.

The core concept of attention economics is that attention is an economic resource that can be traded. The consumer trades his available attention for information, however, not for a tangible product. An advertiser or other individual trying to show information about something must attempt to make that information worth the investment of attention. Strategies in attention economics, then, usually involve making sure that a given piece of information requires only a small investment of attention or that the information presented is presented well enough to justify a larger investment. A large attention investment may lead to a more tangible financial investment in the future.


"Information pollution" is an important term in attention economics that refers to the presence of massive amounts of irrelevant information that people are exposed to on a daily basis. Email spam, for instance, is a form of information pollution. Many who subscribe to the theory of attention economics believe that it is particularly bad because it costs nothing to produce, is not asked for, and steals valuable attention from more important information. Many also feel that spam and other forms of information pollution take a viewer's attention, which is a valuable economic resource, and offer little or nothing in return, and are therefore detrimental to attention economics.

Advertisers and others who keep the theory of attention economics in mind when doing their work tend to place great value on relevancy. A piece of information, such as an advertisement or a web page, is more likely to provide value to a user and to prompt an attention investment if it provides something relevant to the user's interests. Some advertisers try to make their advertisements relevant to as large a group of people as possible. Others, on the other hand, aim for a high level of relevance to a smaller group.


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