What is Target Fixation?

Human beings usually experience target fixation when they are executing tasks that require more attention. Target fixation refers to a situation where the human brain focuses so strongly on an object (target) to the extent that awareness of hazards, obstacles, and other things diminishes. Target fixation occurs due to determination or anticipated success, where a person strives to achieve the goal by all means and ends up paying more attention to the target than the distractor. During target fixation, a person focuses so strongly on the goal or object of their desire when performing a task to the extent that they hardly recognize the terrible outcomes. In most cases, target fixations usually lead to road accidents or wasted opportunities.

Target processing usually takes place in the dorsal frontoparietal attention network in the human brain. It facilitates selective attention where information is processed or filtered-out based on the relevance or priorities (Lanssens et al. 2019). In tasks that require a lot of attention, target fixation occurs because the target has been given more priority in processing than the distractors. Studies show that targets usually stimulate the dorsal frontoparietal attention network more intensively as compared to distractors (Ischebeck et al. 2021). Besides, targets associated with higher fixation rank generally activate the left supramarginal gyrus, responsible for interpreting tactile sensory information related to space perception and limbs’ location. Ischebeck and colleagues observed that activation of frontal and parietal parts of the brain increases memory load, which causes target fixation or attention lapse due to improper prioritization and target processing.

Consequently, target fixation has negative consequences and should always be avoided at all costs. In avoidance scenarios, especially when driving a car or riding a motorcycle, the observer might be fixated on the target (such as other vehicles, bikes, or objects) to the extent that they end up hitting them, thus causing road accidents. Likewise, when a footballer executes a penalty shot, they might be fixated so much on the goalkeeper, which makes them hit the ball straight to the goalkeeper (Kurz, Hegele, & Munzert, 2018). Although this might not cause a fatal accident like the motor collisions, it leads to regrets due to lost opportunities. Target fixation scenarios can be avoided through increased vision control and environmental awareness when in reward or panic mode. 

In conclusion, target fixation occurs involuntarily when short-term memory fails due to information overload. Such failures usually make an individual focus more intensively on the target and ignore the distractors, unaware of the resultant outcomes. It makes road users drive or ride straight into the objects they were avoiding since it has attracted all their attention and made them unconscious about other objects’ existence. Also, soccer players might be fixated on the goalkeeper and end up kicking the ball right into them. Therefore, target fixation should be avoided by staying alert and controlling vision during anxiety.

References

Kurz, J., Hegele, M., & Munzert, J. (2018). Gaze behavior in a natural environment with a task-

relevant distractor: how the presence of a goalkeeper distracts the penalty taker. Frontiers in psychology9, 19.

Ischebeck, A., Hiebel, H., Miller, J., Höfler, M., Gilchrist, I. D., & Körner, C. (2021). Target

processing in overt serial visual search involves the dorsal attention network: A fixation-based event-related fMRI study. Neuropsychologia, 107763-107763.

Lanssens, A., Pizzamiglio, G., Mantini, D., & Gillebert, C. R. (2020). Role of the dorsal attention

network in distracter suppression based on features. Cognitive neuroscience11(1-2), 37-46.