Academic Minute Podcast

Garriy Shytenburg, University of Tennessee-Knoxville – Sharing Attention Across Societal Divides

Shared attention can be key to bridging the gaps between us in society.

Garriy Shteynberg, associate professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, explores.

Garriy Shteynberg is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Garriy received his PhD in psychology from the University of Maryland, and a Master’s in Social and Cultural Anthropology from Oxford University. Beginning with his dissertation work, and taking over a decade to develop, Shteynberg has conceptualized and empirically tested the idea that shared awareness (theory of collective mind) is a hallmark of human psychology. Shteynberg has applied the concept of shared awareness to solve problems and reveal new questions in a variety of disciplines: the emergence of strategic cooperation (economics), novel social norms (sociology, anthropology), effective learning & teaching (education), social identities (psychology), the paradox of common knowledge (philosophy), and problem-solving (organizational behavior).

Sharing Attention Across Societal Divides

According to Gallup Research, only 1 in 4 Americans say they trust national institutions. While institutional trust is decreasing, political polarization is increasing.

When public trust and political consensus disappear, what remains? In my laboratory, we study how shared attention impacts the mind, even when shared beliefs are absent.

My colleagues and I find that compared with attending to the world alone, attending together yields stronger memories, deeper emotions and firmer motivations. Studies show that seeing words together renders them more memorable, watching sad movies together makes them sadder, and focusing together on a goal increases efforts toward goal pursuit.

Studies from other laboratories suggest that shared attention on a common subjective experience can build relationships. For instance, when people co-witness that they have the same gut reaction to an unfamiliar piece of music, they like each other more. Critically, relational benefits are more likely when such subjective experiences are shared simultaneously – instances when people are in a state of shared attention.

When we can no longer agree on what “we” believe, sharing attention to the basic sights and sounds of our world connects us. These moments can be relatively small, like watching a movie in the theater, or large, like watching the Super Bowl.

However, remembering that we are sharing such experiences with Americans of all political persuasions may be important.

Why? When we share awareness of the world with others, no matter how distinct our beliefs, we form a community of minds. We are no longer alone. If we are to restore public trust, sharing attention across societal divides may be a way forward.

Read More:
[The Conversation] – ‘Collective mind’ bridges societal divides − psychology research explores how watching the same thing can bring people together


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