Attention – Definition, Characteristics, Types and Factors Involved

The attention is a concept studied in cognitive psychology that refers to how actively we process specific information in our environment. As you read this, there are numerous sights, sounds, and sensations around you: the pressure of your feet against the floor, the view of the street from a nearby window, the gentle warmth of your shirt, the memory of a conversation you had. previously with a friend.

All these sights, sounds and sensations call for attention, but it turns out that our attentional resources are not unlimited. How do we manage to experience all these sensations and still focus on just one element of our environment? How do we effectively manage the resources we have available to make sense of the world around us?

Let’s take a closer look at how psychologists define it and the many factors that affect our ability to attend to seemingly endless information that competes for our focus.

What is care?

It is the concentration of consciousness on some phenomenon to the exclusion of other stimuli, it is the consciousness of the here and now in a focal and perceptual way. For early psychologists, such as Edward Bradford Titchener, the term determined the content of consciousness and influenced the quality of conscious experience.

In the following years less, emphasis was placed on the subjective element of consciousness and more on the patterns of behavior by which this term might be recognized in others. Although human experience is determined by the way people direct their attention, it is clear that they do not have total control over that direction. There are, for example, times when an individual has difficulty concentrating on a task, a conversation, or a set of events. At other times, it may be “captured” by an unexpected event rather than being voluntarily directed at it.

Attention is an important mental process, without it, other mental processes, such as imagination, learning and thinking, etc., are not possible or useful, we cannot think of anything unless we focus our attention on it.

It is considered that it is that faculty that can be diverted towards any object at will. Attention, instead of being a mental faculty, is part of mental activity, it is also a selective process, when we pay attention to any stimulus, it means that we have removed our attention from other stimuli. Our mind selects only one stimulus, the one that best suits it, to pay attention and that also depends on one’s interest.


  • It is selective mental activity: it is a filtering process through which we selectively respond to incoming stimuli, we can ignore something or accept something else.
  • Changing from one object to another, attraction to new things, so it is not something fixed.
  • It makes the object we attend clear in our consciousness: it awakens the individual to attend to particular objects.
  • Create an attentive attitude from the individual.
  • Create motor adjustments such as muscles and sense organs to improve response.

Types of care

Sustained attention

It is quite simple to catch it from anyone, but it is certainly a challenge to maintain or maintain it for a considerable time. It is the ability to maintain that focus or concentration for long periods of time, even if the individual is exposed to repetitive action or activity. This is the type that is generally used for most learning and work activities, such as listening to a lecture from a teacher all the hour, reading books and notes all night to review, answering quiz or quiz questions, completing a Extensive project, or perhaps, regularly working on a repetitive task, this type should be very beneficial, but it is the type that is often very difficult to acquire or achieve.

Selective attention

When faced with a series of environmental factors or stimuli, the human brain responds naturally by selecting a particular aspect or factor to focus on, this is known as selective attention, which is the ability to select among many factors or stimuli. and focus only on one that you prefer or that your brain selects, this is not really a special kind of attention and difficult to achieve, almost all people use this cognitive ability almost all the time.

Every day, people are often exposed to a number of environmental factors at home, at school, in the office, etc., but their brains respond by focusing only on the particular factors that are most important or that people choose to focus on. However, by better understanding it, the person can better select the appropriate stimuli.

Alternate care

The next type is the alternate, as the name implies, this is the ability to immediately shift or transfer your focus or concentration from one activity to another. The brain also adapts instantly even if the next activity has a different level of knowledge or understanding, similar to selective, alternating attention is also a skill that is used almost all the time. Every day, you must make sudden changes in your activity or action that also require your concentration to change.

Divided attention

The last type is interesting, since it is the ability of an individual to focus or concentrate on two or more environmental factors, stimuli or activities simultaneously, in its simplest form of explanation, experts call it the ability to multitask, which is considered a desirable talent for those who are gifted with this ability, but this means that it will be very difficult for other people to acquire this ability. This type can be learned through practice or by gaining experience in a certain type of activity.

Objectives and subjective factors that determine our attention.


It is true that it is a selective activity, and the will of our mind is very important in determining our concentration, but despite this, there are some factors both in objects and in the individual himself that can influence our attention.

Objective factors

These factors pertain to particular aspects of objects that are inherent in objects.


A moving object attracts our attention more easily than a stationary object, for example, flashing lights draw our attention to non-flashing lights, a moving vehicle attracts our attention more than a parked vehicle.


A more intense light, sound or smell attracts our attention more easily than a less intense one, for example, a high voltage light bulb will be observed faster than a low voltage light bulb, a very bright color than a dark color or a sound very loud than normal sound.


New kinds of objects quickly catch our attention, advertising agencies adopt this technique very effectively, for example, the latest fashion dress, shoes, feather, etc.


A larger or smaller object attracts people’s attention very easily than the average level size of any object, for example a 7-foot taller man, a 2-foot dwarf, a very fat man, a huge multi-story building can get our attention quickly.


A change in our environment attracts our attention quickly, for example, the regular sound of a moving clock does not attract our attention, but the movement stops, our attention is diverted.

An exhibition piece placed in a new place, a radio playing a song stops due to a power failure draws our attention.


When a stimulus is presented repeatedly our attention is diverted, for example, the repeated horn of a fire department or an ambulance.


An object or sound that can be experienced clearly attracts our attention more than stimuli that are not clear, for example, at night, stars and planets that are clearly seen attract our attention.


Colorful objects attract our attention more easily than black or white objects.


An object that is strikingly different from its background catches our attention, for example, a black stain on a white shirt.

Subjective factors

These factors refer to individuals, they are inherent to people. There are many subjective factors that determine our attention.


The objects of our interest call our total concentration immediately, for example, while moving down a road, an athlete is drawn to the store where sports materials are placed. A person who is interested in a particular singer will immediately divert his attention the moment he hears his voice.


The motives are powerful forces that make us divert it, for example, a hotel will attract the attention of a hungry person because it has a disk to eat.

Mental set

Our set or disposition of the mind is very important to attend to any stimulus, for example, when a person is in fantasy, they may not hear any calls. On the other hand, if you are anxiously waiting for a phone call, you will hear it right away.

Emotional state

It is altered during the emotional state, it also affects our perception, for example, when a person is very excited due to fear, they may not hear or understand what others are saying.


Our attention is automatically diverted to the things that habituate us. For example, a smoker remembers having smoked even if he is busy at work, a person accustomed to eating food at a certain time remembers food at the correct time. A nurse’s attention is automatically diverted to a serious patient.

Lack of attention

Inattention and distraction

Limited processing power invariably involves competition for attention, humans spend their waking hours attending to one thing or another. The term inattention generally implies that, at a given moment, what is being attended to is not what it was supposed to be or adaptively not what it should be. People will often report, “I was present, but did not understand what was happening.” On many occasions, internal concerns become the object of current attention at the expense of sensory input from the external world.

Alternatively, an internal stimulus, such as pain or hunger, could attract attention, it is also possible that irrelevant sensory information from the external world may distract people from their current focus of attention. When this happens, it may be due to intrusive stimulus, it has a high priority (like the ringing of a telephone), or perhaps because the task is simply disinterested.

Some people are more easily distracted than others, but for all the distraction varies according to the circumstances, when motivation and the level of participation are high, an individual can totally ignore the intense and persistent “external” signals, such inputs are filtered out reduced or only at an automatic level, even when the stimulus of the competition is the pain of an injury, for example, by an athlete in the early stages of a game, it is often hardly noticeable until the game is over and attention is no longer it is absorbed by the game.

However, because people’s ability to focus their attention varies, some report “concentration difficulties” and may find themselves so easily distracted that they can barely read a book, there are indications that people with chronic anxiety may be among those whose attention is easily distracted by their modest and irrelevant levels of stimulus. This feature has been observed in a number of psychiatric disorders , such as hyperactivity deficit disorder, and it has been suggested that one of these disorders may be a defect in the mechanisms.

Attention lapses.

It has been established that, to conserve limited resources, it appears that complete sequences and hierarchies of actions can be obtained when they have been learned well or executed many times, however, there are reasons to suppose that at least a minimal level of focal attention can be achieved. be necessary, if only to ensure that the correct sequence or hierarchy is started.

Failures of this minimal monitoring can result in the phenomena generally classified as attention failures, for example, most people have experienced trivial behavioral errors, such as finding themselves taking a route of regular use when they intended to go on one. different direction: Try turning off a light when leaving a room in daylight, or perhaps pouring tea into the sugar bowl instead of a cup. In each case, a well-established action has been inappropriately triggered by partial cues and has slipped beyond the attentional monitor, such errors usually occur because a person was “thinking about something else” or was not paying attention to the activity in question. question.

In many circumstances, it is advantageous for automatic sequences of behavior to be performed with only very limited reference to conscious attention. Musicians, typists, and other skilled individuals are aware that too much attention devoted to the execution of a well-learned skill can disrupt performance, yet individuals cannot completely dispense with a degree of attentional control if they want to avoid mistakes.

Another type of error involves not being able to remember whether a particular action has been performed as part of a highly automated sequence: “Did I put sugar in my tea or not?”, Another occurs when an automatic action triggers another unwanted action or action. inappropriate: “I just wanted to take off my shoes, but I also took off my socks.” Most failures have in common that they occur when attention has been called for by an internal concern or an external distraction.

Georgia Tarrant
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Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.