The way we experience the world is informed by our internal process and judgements. We look through a prism of needs, desires, aspirations, fears and expectations. Most of the time we don’t take into account that each and every one of us has her own prism to look through. The material, this lens is build from, is the same for everyone but each has a unique combination of layers and the lens highlights certain aspects in different ways for different people. These individual layers determine what is salient to us. Salience describes a quality that stands out for us. It is what we notice and think of as being important. The ability to recognise what is salient and what is not is a key element in learning and survival. It allows to use our limited memory resources in the most optimal way.
The combination of what is salient to us forms the salience landscape and provides a map which we use to make decisions and live our lives, depending on what stands out for us at the moment the choices are determined. Different things find different ways to end up in this landscape. Sometimes very primal and direct features like the colour of packaging or the position of a product on the shelves direct our choices. This type is quite universal within a particular culture, as it operates based on the race for evolutionary survival. Some of the things that are salient are strictly unique and are emerging form complex sophisticated structure of prior events. A lot of salience realisation happens on subliminal level as this rearrangement of the world around into what we pay attention to is happening all the time. We don’t need our consciousness to participate, if the did, we would be in a complete overdrive from all the possible choices that are available. Luckily we don’t have to be busy with it all the time, but in this power there is also a weakness. If we lose the awareness and don’t become active gardeners of our salience landscape, the place can become inaccessible even to its owner.
To structure the world and navigate it according to our needs are perhaps two of the most important tasks that we have in order to be. Without these we can never make sense out of the world and pick out the things that bring us joy. Our perception can play tricks with us though. It can play with meaning and mislead our understanding of reality producing salience bias. Decision-making that is based on most emotionally appealing features leads to ignoring less interesting occurrences, even if they objectively have equal importance. Such a behaviour manifests in so called cognitive ease. A state where we try to avoid avoid stressful and demanding situations that require additional processing and possible risk-taking. This laziness and desire for cognitive ease can lead to a world of irrationality where they make decisions according to elements that appear most salient. We don’t look beyond the surface as it requires extra work and stay close to what we already know. But what happens if we are stuck in a loop where everything that we know we want to forget? How can we break out of the loop where emotionality of an occurrence creates salience?
We know that for every good thing we remember there are five bad ones. So if we are surrounded by negative experience can we possibly work on the salience landscape proactively to not let it grow dark and scary? I believe we definitely can. Even more so, the lifelong project of beautification of our salience landscape is the only way to maintain the idea of the free movement through the world. Knowing the individual salience geography and formation can give us access to knowledge of how to move in the world freely. Taking care about what comes into the field of awareness, surrounding ourselves with diverse experiences and getting closer to knowing what we want to look at, can break negative the feedback loop and slowly but certainly take the unwanted weeds out of our way.