I was looking through old class notes from a visual communication theory class I previously had and found a ton of cool info on a biological response called the “orienting response.” I thought those of you who don’t already know about it might be interested to find out, so if you think you might be, read on!
What is this response I’m talking about??
Coined by Ivan Pavlov in 1927, the orienting response is our instinctive visual or auditory reaction to any sudden or novel stimulus. It’s a deeply rooted survival instinct acting as our body’s built-in sensitivity to movement and potential predatory threats. There are actual physical measures of this response that include the dilation of blood vessels as well as a decrease in heart rate. This type of physical response allows the body to gather information about what stimulus it’s taking in. You can think of it as your body’s way of saying, “Stop and pay attention!”
While we might not rely on this response to avoid predators as much anymore, it still kicks in…just for much different reasons. In other words, the cavemen probably would have never guessed that someday a television would take the place of a dinosaur waiting to eat them 😛
Here are 6 ways our orienting response affects us today (you’ll be surprised):
1. The reason educational shows like Sesame Street can hold a child’s attention so well is because the frequency of edits from one camera angle to the next are designed to compliment our orienting response. The amount of ‘novelty and surprise’ created by this technique increases attention, recall and learning.
2. On the other hand, too much novelty and surprise can cause fatigue. Have you ever watched a TV show attentively, but found that you still felt tired and worn out when it ended? That’s the feeling you get when your orienting response is overworked.
3. The worst-case scenario is that your orienting response could flip out and land you in the hospital. Seriously. In 1997, 700 Japanese children were rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with “optically stimulated epileptic seizures.” Turns out they were all watching Pokemon and the nonstop bright flashing nature of the episode caused their orienting response to go into panic mode.
4. The rapid cutting and unrelated scenes found in music videos can hold viewer attention, but the only information conveyed is non-factual information like impressions and moods.
5. Because of the orienting response, infants as young as six to eight weeks old can attend to a television screen.
6. Video gamers are also affected by the orienting response, but in a slightly different way. Why? Because there’s more interactivity involved with playing video games. However, playing them for long periods of time in one sitting can wear players out to the point of dizziness and motion sickness.
The orienting response has been around for at least 50,000 years!!! That’s a long time, especially considering that we don’t depend on it for survival anymore. I hope you learned something and as always–feel free to comment so we can continue the conversation 🙂