Until now, it has been believed that keeping a close watch helps us perceive the world more accurately.
But Yale University cognitive psychologists have found that intense focus on objects can have the opposite effect - it distorts perception of where things are in relation to one another.
"Figuring out where objects are in the world seems like one of the most basic and important jobs the brain does," said Brandon Liverence, a graduate student at Yale University.
"It was surprising to discover that even this simple type of perception is warped by our minds," he stated.
Liverence and Brian Scholl, also from the same University, studied such distortions when people had to focus their attention on some objects, but not others.
When they did this, Liverence explained, the "attended objects" were seen as closer together than they really were, while the other objects were seen as farther apart than they really were.
"Attention is the way our minds connect with things in the environment, enabling us to see, remember, and interact with those things. We tend to think that attention clarifies what's out there. But it also distorts," Liverence added.
The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.