Directed Attention Fatigue and Restoration

5. Signs of Directed Attention Fatigue in Emotions

With one exception, Attention Fatigue does not directly affect your emotions, since emotions apparently run on different circuitry. The exception is that everything often seems more unpleasant when you are fatigued. This is usually the case when an essential system is not functioning up to par-- but vague feelings of unease can make it hard to tell WHICH system is not working.

What fatigue does do to emotions is interfere with the system that helps you modulate or ignore emotions, or think differently. When this ability to regulate emotional input is impaired, you are at the whim of every passing feeling.

With Attention Fatigue, your affect, emotions, or feelings may become more unstable and negative:
•You may feel more irritable or moody
•You may feel more impatient, stuck, and generally uncomfortable
•You find it harder to tolerate trivia or delays
•You may feel unusual suspicion or fears
•You may find it harder to handle noise and commotion
•Your emotions may jump around, feel more extreme, or seem stuck
•It may become harder to trust your emotions, just when you are more influenced by them

Many of us use a tremendous amount of attention juice dealing with emotions. We try to ignore our feelings, distract ourselves from them, understand them, and even control them.

But the funny thing is, using your powers of concentration may not be a very effective way of handling emotions! If emotions run on different circuitry than attention, it may be like trying to get the TV to turn off by turning on the microwave. Such a ploy would only work if you blew a fuse, or some wires are crossed.

This is a fascinating and poorly explored issue (emotions and attention, not TV vs microwave.) Considering the extent to which emotions dominate our lives, it would be a very promising area of research.

We do know that with mental fatigue you often have increased emotional lability. You can be flying high, then crash, then take off again in short order.

In addition, there may be a direct emotional effect of Attention Fatigue that was mentioned before. Because Directed Attention is so basic to intelligent functioning, its impairment may have an unpleasant emotional links. That would be useful--if Attention Fatigue feels bad to you, it might be less attractive to do things that fatigue it further.

Problems with these basic mental activities can spread into more complex planning and social areas.


William James, The Principles of Psychology, 1890

Kaplan, S. and R. Kaplan (1982). Cognition and Environment. New York: Praeger. Republished 1989 by Ulrich’s, Ann Arbor, MI.

Kaplan, Rachel, and Stephen Kaplan, The experience of nature, a psychological perspective, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1989

Lezak, M.D., Assessing executive functions, International Journal of Psychology, 17 (1982) 281-297


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