Attention seeking

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Attention seeking (also called drawing attention or garnering attention) is behaving in a way that is likely to elicit attention, usually to hearten oneself by being in the limelight or to elicit validation from others. Where such behavior is gratuitous and inappropriate, the term is often used pejoratively in regard to children's behavior in front of peers or to negative domestic interactions.

Enjoying the attention of others is socially acceptable in some situations.[1] In some instances, however, the need for attention can lead to new difficulties and may highlight underlying, preexisting ones. However, as a tactical method, it is often used in combat, theatre (upstaging) and it is fundamental to marketing. One strategy used to counter various types of attention-seeking behavior is planned ignoring.


If as a child, the person did not receive much attention from their parents or their peers then they may grow up feeling neglected. Those feelings will then be the main drive behind the person's attention-seeking behavior. Children of abusive parents and parents who are always absent may feel overlooked, and so the child may grow up becoming an attention-seeking adult.

Sometimes adults seek attention because of jealousy. When someone finds themselves threatened by another person who takes all the attention, they may respond with attention-seeking behavior.

Lack of self-esteem can be another cause for attention-seeking behavior. Some people think that they are overlooked and so they think that the only solution to restore their balance is to bring back the lost attention. The attention they will get in this case will provide them with reassurance and will help them think that they are worthy.

Narcissists are also attention seekers. They consider this attention a good source of narcissistic supply and so they strive to get it.[2]

In different pathologies or contexts[edit]

  • Münchausen by Internet
  • Münchausen syndrome
  • Münchausen syndrome by proxy
  • Personality disorders – A sustained pattern of attention seeking in adults is often associated with histrionic personality disorder, borderline personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder.[3]
  • Self-destructive behavior – It is a common misconception that self-destructive behavior is inherently attention seeking, or at least that attention is a primary motive. While this is undoubtedly true in many cases, often the motivation runs much deeper than that. Many self-injurers are very self-conscious of their wounds and scars and feel guilty about their behavior leading them to go to great lengths to conceal their behavior from others. This, however, brings up the issue of scars being seen which only shows others of the person's behavior which could be used as a deliberate attempt at seeking attention or sympathy.[4]
  • Voluntary false confession
  • "Attention seeking" is a term that can be misused in order to discredit people who are sincerely trying to reconcile themselves with past traumas - and their consequential maladaptive behaviors through others (which is necessary and beneficial when the trauma affects the personality), thus giving the impression of simply "seeking attention" - this is usually a consequence of extreme abuse and neglect which impair the sufferer's capacity for healthy interpersonal transaction.[5]

Planned ignoring[edit]

Planned ignoring is a strategy where a person gives no outward sign of recognizing a behavior, such as no eye contact, no verbal response and no physical response to the person seeking attention. The desired consequence of attention-seeking behavior is receiving attention in some form (positive or negative) from another person; when attention-seeking behavior no longer contacts attention, it will eventually cease.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Burns, Robert B. Essential Psychology, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991; ISBN 0-7923-8957-3
  2. ^ M.Farouk Radwan, The Psychology of Attraction Explained,
  3. ^ Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) American Psychiatric Association (2000)
  4. ^ Truth Hurts Report, Mental Health Foundation, 2006, ISBN 978-1-903645-81-9, retrieved 2008-06-11 
  5. ^[permanent dead link] 2013

Further reading[edit]

  • Gewirtz, Jacob L Three determinants of attention-seeking in young children (1956)
  • Gewirtz, Jacob L A factor analysis of some attention-seeking behaviors of young children Child Development (1956)
  • Harvey, Eric & Mellor, Nigel Helping Parents Deal With Attention Seeking Behaviour (2009)
  • Leit, Lisa & Jacobvitz, Deborah & Hazen-Swann, Nancy Conversational Narcissism in Marriage: Narcissistic attention seeking behaviors in face-to-face interactions: Implications for marital stability and partner mental health (2008)
  • Mellor, Nigel Attention Seeking: A Practical Solution for the Classroom (1997)
  • Mellor, Nigel The Good, the Bad and the Irritating: A Practical Approach for Parents of Children who are Attention Seeking (2000)
  • Mellor, Nigel Attention Seeking: A Complete Guide for Teachers (2008)
  • Smith-Martenz, Arden Attention-seeking misbehaviors (1990)

External links[edit]