The dark side of attention


Picture by Christopher Polk/Getty Images in an Entertainment Weekly article by Clarkisha Kent

Alexis Soeder, Staff Writer

Celebrities do crazy things all of the time, and it works for them, so why can’t the average person get away with the same things?


Crazy stunts range from Lady Gaga’s meat dress to Kanye West’s 2009 MTV VMAs incident.


Assistant Professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at Kent State, Lee Gilman names stunts such as the Keystone XL pipeline, Occupy Wall Street, Elon Musk’s bid on and purchase of Twitter and various acts by magician David Copperfield.


In regard to these stunts, and others, Gilman says that while one person can view something as negative, another person can view it as positive, and this is what allows an increase in visibility regardless of the type of attention something, or someone, gets.


The concept of publicity stunts have recently become more prevalent. American rapper, singer and songwriter Kanye West has called attention to himself with various acts including but not limited to: wearing a ‘White lives matter’ shirt, making anti-Semitic comments, voicing his opinions on Kim Kardashian, Lizzo and more.

In 2020 West ran for president the first time and his campaign is planning to return for the 2024 year.


BBC article, “Kanye West announces 2024 presidential bid,” says West’s 2020 campaign “flopped” only gaining around 70,000 votes which doesn’t leave much hope for 2024.


While celebrities like West do crazy things to promote themselves and their brand, why do ‘normal’ people do it?


An Evolution Counseling article, “Kids Don’t Differentiate Between Positive Attention And Negative Attention”, says that parents all subconsciously have favored kids, whether they like to admit it or not. When all of their kids are behaving, positive attention is easily given to the favorite(s) which leaves the less preferred child(ren) feeling isolated.


The article quotes, “Kids don’t differentiate between positive and negative attention, they just want attention, they want to know they matter to you, that they’re important, that you see them, that they’re connected to and wanted by something bigger than them…”


Their desperate need for attention leads to them doing anything they can to get it.

Gilman says that young of all ages need attention to survive and therefore they seek it, even if it is not a conscious decision.


Gilman continues, “As children mature and become more aware of the consequences of their actions, they may voluntarily engage in more or less attention-seeking behaviors to increase or decrease the chances of certain consequences/outcomes.”


But when it becomes a problem, how is it fixed?


The CDC article “How to Use Ignoring” suggests a proper response, if the goal is to stop a child’s attention seeking behavior, is to ignore the unwanted behavior. 

Picture by Steve Granitz/Wireimage in an In Style article by Kimberly Truong


The article says, “When you ignore your child, you do not neglect him or stand by while he misbehaves. Instead, you take all your attention away from your child and his behavior. Ignoring usually helps stop behaviors that your child is using to get your attention.”


In relation to said CDC article, Gilman agrees that whilst ignoring can lead to the reduction of a specific behavior it could also create another behavior to replace it.


“Attention-seeking behavior is not necessarily negative,” adds Gilman, “As I mentioned earlier, it is often essential for survival, particularly in young. If a kid doesn’t cry, or a puppy doesn’t whine, the caregiver will not recognize that they need something.”

Because attention-seeking behaviors are so common, and needed for survival, not everyone notices them.

Retired Kent State professor Beth Wildman says that people do not always understand the relation between their behavior and the consequences that come from them.

However, this idea applies for not only humans, but animals as well.


According to a Pet Place article called “Attention Seeking Behavior of Dogs,” dogs will bark, whine or even vomit to get the attention of their owners or others around them. The article says to an extent there could be no harm from these behaviors; however, when it gets to the point where the dog is faking illness for attention it needs to stop.


This article suggests the same response to these behaviors as the CDC article, “How to Use Ignoring,” and once again suggests that after a while of not giving attention to a dog that is taking extreme measures to get it their behaviors will eventually die down.


Gilman agrees there are similarities in behavior between humans and other species, specifically naming seagulls and pigeons who approach people with food.


“A particular outcome is desired, and if an animal engages in a behavior that increases the likelihood of that outcome, that is known as positive reinforcement,” says Gilman.


The concept of positive reinforcement is what encourages animals and people to engage in behaviors again that have already given them their desired outcome.


Wildman says that psychologists have even recommended keeping the names of criminals from the public because it would keep them from getting attention and there would be a lesser likelihood of others trying to recreate the behavior.


However, attention is not everyone’s desire. Gilman explains that if undesirable things happen when a person is noticed, especially a child, they may not find interest in any kind of attention.


Dr. Gilman continues saying that attention-seeking behaviors and avoiding attention are on opposite ends of a spectrum. 


They say that people are complex creatures and no one is the same. Both types of behaviors, attention-seeking and attention avoiding, allow humans to use them in ways to get what they want.


Wildman adds, “There are certain settings/experiences/cultures in which (some) individuals are punished or fear punishment for standing out.  People who have those experiences are likely to avoid attention.”


Attention-seeking behaviors can be beneficial, but should always be watched with a close eye to make sure they don’t take a negative turn.