Due to its limited processing capacity, the human brain cannot attend to the vast amount of sensory input in our surrounding environment all at once. Instead, we employ selective attention, for which there are various psychological theories. A well-known demonstration of this concept, created by psychologists, Dr. Daniel Simons, and Dr. Christopher Chabris, can be seen here.

NBC’s Community, which recently began its 5th season, is a show that has often played with the selective attention of viewers, as seen in the following examples:

The missing pen:

The episode, “Cooperative Calligraphy” had the group voluntarily confined in their study room trying to find Annie’s missing pen.  Throughout the episode, all the characters blame and suspect one another, tearing the room apart looking for the pen to no avail. It isn’t until the end that we see Troy’s missing pet monkey was the culprit all along:

This ending was surprising enough, but even more surprising was – as I imagine was discovered through exhaustive reviewing of the episode – the actual pen theft was very stealthily included in the episode; as seen here:


Outside of Community, as some may already know, the rule of Beetlejuice is that he will appear when you say his name 3 times.  What some may not know is that over the course of a few episodes in season 1,2, and 3, the writers of Community, made a joke referencing this:

(pay attention to the window in the last scene).

Abed delivers a child:

In the episode, “The Psychology of Letting Go,” the main plot focused on Pierce dealing with the loss of his mother. However, what most viewers did not notice until later was Abed in the background talking with a pregnant couple, and ultimately helping deliver their baby.


Another Community fan went as far as to find the supposedly originating clip that preceded this whole event, also occurring, even more subtly, in the background of an episode in season 1:

These examples demonstrate that, like our perception, what we usually attend to is limited.  Our attention isn’t perfect or objective. Rather, it’s selective and partial to bias, which can subsequently be adaptive or maladaptive.  As indicated by research, anxiety states tend to be related to both increased attention to threatening cues, as well as a higher probability of perceiving ambiguous events negatively.  Meanwhile other research has indicated that positive mood tends to be associated with an increased breadth of attentional selection.  Perhaps this can be taken as a reminder that – as advocated by the DBT distress tolerance strategy, “One Thing in the Moment” – even during times of psychological distress, there may be other cues in the environment that are more helpful to attend to.

photo credit: nydailynews.com