The initial exposure to blurred, conflicting or ambiguous stimuli and data creates deep interference with accurate perception even after more and better information becomes available. This effect has been demonstrated experimentally with subjects that are exposed to a distorted blurred image. As they develop more confidence in this first and perhaps erroneous impression of ambiguous stimuli this initial impression has more impact on subsequent perceptions. When the picture becomes clearer, new data is assimilated into the previous image but the initial interpretation is maintained and resistance to cognitive change is upheld until the contradiction becomes so strong and apparent that it forces itself upon consciousness.
The amount of information to invalidate a hypothesis is significantly greater than the amount of information required to make an initial interpretation, and the early but incorrect impression tends to endure. The difficulty is not in acquiring new perceptions or new ideas, but that already established perceptions are difficult to change. Human assumptions formed regularly on the basis of very little information, are not rejected or changed unless rather solid and extensive evidence forces to reconsider the analysis. As the impact of expectations and pre-existing images on perception of stimuli is related to the ambiguity of the stimuli and discordance of information, the intelligence analyst's own preconceptions are likely to exert a big impact, despite striving for objectivity. As Cultural Intelligence deals with highly ambiguous situations by definition, analysts adapt a strategy of suspending judgment for as long as possible.
Attention as a mental process is the concentration and focusing on a stimulus, mental event, or task. Viewed as the process of selecting some of the many available inputs, attention is a decision process in the systematic admission of information into consciousness. The capacity to selectively prepare our nervous system to process one set of stimuli, think about a topic, or make a response is an attention set. Attention is a limited mental resource. Automatic processes that operate parallel and where capacities are not coupled with intention and are not requiring awareness, do not strain attention resources. (Thinking about the task might actually introduce errors). Controlled processing, as for unfamiliar tasks, operates serially, takes attention and is therefore resource limited. Human short term memory (Working Memory) is limited in capacity with approximately thirty seconds and the capability to keep around only seven plus or minus two information items, chunks. At any given time, several active or near-active conceptual processes are competing for cognitive resources and attention. A wide range of new information is monitored any moment and there is an even wider choice of information in memory which might be activated to provide a relevant context in which to process new information. "Relevance" is a theoretical term to refer to the cognitive utility of a piece of information in a context, or for an individual at a given time. Human cognition is geared towards the maximization of relevance, the achievement of as many contextual effects as possible for as little processing effort as possible.
Communication creates expectations of relevance in others, raises and exploits specific expectations of relevance. The human pursuit of relevance as a constant factor makes it possible to assume with a degree of success what others are paying attention to, and what they are thinking. They are paying attention to information that seems most relevant to them, combining this information with the most relevant contextual information available. Because humans follow this predictive pattern, they can act on each other's mind by manipulating expectations of relevance and importance becomes a negotiated state-of-mind.