We live in a time in which we are swamped with stimuli that make it difficult for us to maintain attention on a task. It is becoming more common to watch a movie while reading the news on the computer and texting on the phone at the same time. We are now used to perform several tasks simultaneously, but do we really pay enough attention to what we are doing? How can we tell when we are dealing with attention problems? Can attention be trained?
What is attention?
Attention is the cognitive ability to generate, direct, and maintain an appropriate state of alertness to correctly process information
Types of attention
There are three different processes or types of attention:
- Sustained attention: the ability to continuously maintain focus on a task or event over a long period of time.
- Selective attention: the ability to direct attention and focus on a task without interruption or interference from either external or internal factors or stimuli.
- Alternating attention: the ability to rapidly shift focus from one task to another.
The most common difficulties experienced by people with attention problems are:
-Becoming easily distracted and failing to pay attention to details
-Difficulty following instructions and completing tasks
-Making careless mistakes
-Avoiding tasks that require sustained mental effort
For example, when we are shifting focus continuously from one stimulus to another and we are not able to focus attention on any of them, we are struggling with attention problems. This will decisively influence memory processes because if we do not pay sufficient attention to a stimulus, we will not be able to process it and retain it in memory.