Selective attention is what people use when they pay attention to a single stimulus in a complex setting. Having a conversation in a crowded restaurant is an example of selective attention. It is not possible to pay attention to every stimulus that surrounds us. The ability to filter out background noise and focus on one object or message is essential when we are consistently bombarded with information. The drawback to selective attention occurs when people disregard what is happening around them.

Selective attention can be manipulated. Marketing experts, for example, attempt to link their advertising messages to their customers’ interests. They do this with the hope of grabbing the selective attention of people.