Attention in economics, sociology, information system, organisation

This short article is about the use of the notion of attention in 4 different cases. The goal is to understand that the notion of attention is a transversal notion, interesting not only for a cognition point of view, at the individual level but also that may have an impact in the design of models in other fields, at the macro level. This post gives very roughly the insight of 3 attention-related papers in 3 different fields: attention in economics, attention in sociology, attention in information system. Furthermore this article is completed with a 4th case in a former post[1] (in French) about an organizational theory-based view of, a social news aggregator.

Information Pollution

For the first case, I will mention the most obvious case: the problem of information overload we have from decades and the fact that information system designers still don’t react to this trend. David A. Bray [5] pointed out the (not new) analogy between information overload and environment ecological problem. “ Similar to the limits of Earth’s “environmental load” with regard to human-made pollution, some of the technologies we have built have led (unforeseeably) to increased information pollution. This pollution is beginning to manifest itself in terms of lost productivity, additional work hours, and decline in true “vacation” times disconnected from work. [..] Business leaders implementing technology solutions also have an obligation to balance corporate technology use and priorities with the innate emotional need among all employees for time with nature and with friends, free of technological distractions.”
As Herb Simon, the first one predicting the information overload problem several decades before, noted in 1996 [6]: . ” …many designers of information systems incorrectly represented their design problem as information scarcity rather than attention scarcity, and as a result they built systems that excelled at providing more and more information to people, when what was really needed were systems that excelled at filtering out unimportant or irrelevant information”

Global & local diversities of attention producers in an attention market

In the economic theory field, and more specifically about the attention economy (see the below note for people who don’t know the concept) Falkinger has recently produced a model describing the competition among attention producers [2] (a former interesting paper [3] characterizes a rich-information environment). He focused his study on the producer side, the signal’s sender, rather than the user side, the receiver. According to his psychological model and the fact that only senders that achieve a non null impact on receiver’s attention will survive, he demonstrated how a wider diffusion of signals among a population can diminish the equilibrium number of senders, despite the fact that the receivers has access to a larger variety of senders than before. So the global diversity of senders decreases but the local diversity, the number of senders perceived by receivers, increases. This change is due to the ability of the few surviving companies to increase their radiation capacities, the maximum numbers of reachable receivers (thanks to different factors: cheaper signal production, more effective methods of impact generation, but also international integration i.e. their radiation going beyond local areas).

Note about attention economy: Nowadays, in a Information-rich world, the information is not a scarce resource. But Information still consumes a limited resource , the receiver’s attention. thus Attention is a valuable resource and a competition will emerge between the information producers to get the consumers’ attention. for more information check wikipedia

Influence & opinion formation in an social network

For the sociological view (well “socio-physics”, because the paper is written by a physicist and have no real sociological consideration), J. O. Indekeu proposed an opinion formation model[4] based on the hypothesis that, in a social network, the influence of a person on his/her contacts is inversely proportional to the size of his contacts. “questionable whether a node, e.g., a person, with many partners (i.e., nodes to which he/she is linked) is able to influence all these partners as strongly as a person with only a few partners would be able to do. An intensive person-to-person discussion presumably creates a stronger tendency to form a durable common opinion than a one-to-many communication”.
Even if the model is a hypothesis (as a lot in sociophysics) and haven’t be validated by experimental data, it’s still interesting to note the idea of Indekeu about the introduction of an attention aspect in an Ising model for modeling opinion formation. His Special Attention Network presented attenuates the strong influence exerted by highly connected people in networks by introducing a detailed local compensation of high connectivity by weak interaction.

Attentional Structure of an organisation (french)

Article sur une vision organisationnelle du service basée sur des théories liées à l’attention. (Simon 1947) définit le comportement d’une organisation comme un processus cognitif et structurel. La prise de décision est le résultat d’une capacité attentionnelle limitée de l’humain et l’influence structurelle des organisations sur l’attention des individus. (Ocasio 1997) fait explicitement ce lien entre cognition et structure à travers des concepts de canaux de communication et structures d’attention. Il argumente en gros de la façon suivante:

De part leurs capacités cognitives limitées, les décideurs focalisent leurs attentions sur un ensemble limité de problèmes et solutions (foyers d’attention) qui va déterminer leurs actions.

2) Cet ensemble de foyers d’attention dépend de la situation dans laquelle les décideurs se trouvent et notamment des stimuli environnementaux qu’ils reçoivent.

3) Ces stimuli dépendent des canaux de procédure et de communication de l’entreprise, jouant le rôle de filtres perceptuels (StarBuck and Milliken 1988) influençant l’attention de l’individu sur tels ou tels problèmes ou solutions (i.e. générant des valeurs d’ordre et d’importance suivant les canaux). Ces canaux et structures d’attention étant le fruit des règles de l’entreprise, de ses ressources, des positions sociales dans l’entreprise.

l’attention d’un individu est donc conditionnée par l’existence de structures d’attention préalables qui orientent son attention vers certains éléments plutôt que d’autres. Et réciproquement… La distribution des problèmes ou solutions dépend de la façon dont ces structures d’attention sont disposées dans l’organisation, les orientant et distribuant parmi les décideurs.

Lien avec les communautés de type Un exemple explicite de ce type de phénomène sur internet se retrouve dans des mécanismes appelés “social information filtering”. Du fait de la surcharge d’informations, de grandes communautés virtuelles, telles que ou (qui est aussi un système d’interprétation puisque les gens taggent les pages) sont utilisées à des fins de filtres perceptuels pour faire émerger l’information pertinente.

Au niveau local, l’individu observe son réseau d’attention (amis ou personnes partageant des centres d’intérêt commun) à des fins de veille d’information. Ce procédé est d’autant plus efficace qu’il peut être appliqué au niveau de la communauté. La communauté se transforme en un unique foyer d’attention où émerge l’information pertinente au niveau collectif (e.g. pages les plus populaires par rapport à un thème donné).

Ce qui caractérise ce type de filtrage c’est que l’émergence d’une information n’est pas seulement liée à la qualité de son contenu mais à la structure du réseau attentionnel de la communauté. La perception de l’individu étant étroitement liée à ces structures d’attention, elle peut être biaisée par un réseau d’attention pathogène. S’exerce alors une influence (massive) d’une minorité de foyers d’attention (i.e. d’individus) sur la perception d’une large population d’individu. A noter des études de (Lerman 2007) et (Huberman 2007) montrant entre autre ce type de processus dans


  • Simon, Herbert A. (1947) “Administrative Behavior”. New-York: Macmillan.
  • K. Lerman (2007) “Social Information Processing in Social News Aggregation”, IEEE Internet Computing’s special issue on Social Search
  • Starbuck, W.H., Milliken, F. J., (1988). Executives’ perceptual filters: what they notice and they make sense, In D. C. Hamerick (Ed.), The executive effect: concepts and methods for studying top executives (pp. 35-65), Greenwich, CT:JAI.
  • W. Ocasio, (1997) “Towards an attention-based theory of the firm”, Strategic Management Journal
  • Fang Wu, Bernardo A. Huberman, 2007 Novelty and Collective Attention


[2] Indekeu (2003), “Special Attention Network”, Available at Arxiv:
[3] Falkinger (2005) “Limited attention as the scarce resource in an information-rich economy” Discussion Paper IZA, 1538 . Available
[4] Falkinger (2007) “Attention economies,” Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 127(1), pages 266-294, March. Available at
[5] Bray (2007)., “Conceptualizing Information Systems and Cognitive Sustainability in 21st Century ‘Attention’ Economies. Piedmont Project Available at SSRN:
[6] Simon, H. A. (1996), The Sciences of the Artificial (3rd ed.), The MIT Press

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