¿Qué es la atención? Problemas y actividades para trabajar la atención

What is attention? Problems and activities to train attention


Definition of attention

Attention is the process of directing cognitive resources towards certain aspects of the environment, or towards the execution of certain actions that seem most appropriate. It refers to the state of observation and alertness that allows awareness of what is happening in the environment

In other words, it is the ability to generate, direct, and maintain an appropriate state of alertness to correctly process information

Basic concepts about the attention system according to Posner:

  1. It does not process information; it either allows or inhibits that processing. It is anatomically separate from processing systems.
  2. It utilizes a network of anatomical areas: it is neither the property of a specific area of the brain, nor a general result of the brain.
  3. The brain areas involved in attention do not have the same function but different areas carry out different functions. It is not a unitary function.

Therefore, the attention system has two main functions: maintaining an alert state (VIGILANCE) and selecting the information that is going to be managed (MONITORING AND CONTROL).  It selects the mechanisms and information that will be manipulated. This system has a limited capacity, so it needs to select the type of relevant information.

You can click here to learn more about the anatomical basis of the attention system.


Involuntary attention develops shortly after the orientation response appears in the first few weeks of life. The baby will gradually show an interest in the environment and will want to interact with it. In infancy, the voluntary attention promoted by the adult becomes increasingly important, mainly through play and other activities.

At an early age, children have difficulty concentrating for a long time on an activity, especially if it is not particularly appealing to them; as they get older, children will be able to focus for a longer time if something is interesting and they will direct their attention towards the object of their interest by maintaining attention for as long as their interest lasts. Later on, children will be able to direct it on their own, thus reinforcing it.

As infants approach 2 years of age, this function becomes more selective. Children aged 3-4 can play the same game for half an hour while 5- and 6-year-olds can increase the time to an hour and a half and capture more nuances in the object to focus on.

Middle childhood and adolescence are characterized by the development of increasingly complex cognitive functions. As cognitive skills develop, language becomes the main instrument for organizing this function and motivation the main reinforcement tool.

Types of attention

There are five different attention processes:

  1. Sustained: the ability to continuously maintain focus on a task or event over a long period of time. This type is also called vigilance.
  2. Selective: the ability to direct attention and focus on a task without interruption or interference from either external or internal stimuli.
  3. Alternating: the ability to rapidly shift focus from one task to another.
  4. Processing speed: the rate at which the brain performs a task (it will evidently vary according to the task and depending on other cognitive functions involved). It is measured by the elapsed time between the onset of a stimulus and the individual’s response.
  5. Heminegligect: great difficulty or inability to direct it to one sideusually the left) of external space or one’s own body.

Attention problems and symptoms

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 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.

Posts about attention

Anatomical basis of the attention system

A brief explanation of the main networks involved in the attentional processes and their functioning. This post is based on Posner’s model (the most widely accepted) to use it with current research.

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Attention problems: what are they, types and symptoms

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 these problems? Can it be trained?

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ADHD is the acronym for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is a neurodevelopment disorder characterized by the core symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity.

ADHD affects 2% to 5% of children. At school, it is estimated that every classroom of 30 students has 1 to 2 children with ADHD.

This is a chronic condition whose symptoms usually start before the age of 7. In addition, it is more common in boys than in girls: about four boys to every girl are diagnosed with ADHD according to data from the FEAADAH (Spanish Federation of ADHD Support Organizations).

If you would like to learn more about ADHD, you can read the following post:

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Rehabilitation of divided attention

This is the last and highest level of attention in the clinical model proposed by Sohlberg and Mateer1and is followed by alternating, selective, sustained and focused attention. This type allows us to attend to two or more different tasks simultaneously, which is commonly known as multitasking. In this post, you will learn that the training of divided attention in particular is done using three types of activities.

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Rehabilitation of alternating attention

This is the ability to shift the focus of attention and move between two or more activities with different cognitive requirements. Mental flexibility is thereby required to enable the switch and to perform the different tasks efficiently, without the cognitive load of one task limiting the performance of the others, or task switching itself altering concentration.

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Rehabilitation of selective attention

This is a complex cognitive function that has been researched from several scientific fields—from neuropsychology to cognitive neuroscience via psychometrics and even electrophysiology. This has resulted in the development of multiple models that attempt to explain this ability from different perspectives.

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Rehabilitation of sustained attention

It is the “ability to maintain a consistent behavioral response during continuous and repetitive activity.” In other words, this type incorporates the notion of vigilance, maintaining attention to a single stimulus for a period of time.

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Cognitive stimulation activities to train this cognitive function

Worksheets for improving attention and memory in children and adults

In the following, we introduce 10 worksheets designed by NeuronUP that are ideal for neuropsychologists or occupational therapists to train attention and memory in both children and adults.

See worksheets

Cognitive rehabilitation activities for children with ADHD

In the link below, you can find 10 cognitive rehabilitation activities for children with ADHD.

See the activities


  1. Ballesteros, S. (2000, Nueva Edición Revisada y Aumentada). Psicología General. Un enfoque cognitivo para el siglo XXI. Madrid: Editorial Universitas.
  2. Bruna, O., Roig, T., Puyuelo, M., Junqué, C. & Ruano, Á. (2011). Rehabilitación neuropsicológica: Intervención y práctica clínica. Barcelona: Elseiver Masson.
  3. Londoño, L. (2009). La atención: un proceso psicológico básico. Revista de la Facultad de Psicología Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia. Volumen 5, Número 8 / Enero – junio 2009.
  4. Posner, M. I. (1995). Attention in cognitive neuroscience: An overview. In M. S. Gazzaniga (Ed.)
  5. Posner, M.I y Bourke. P. (1999): “Attention”.
  6. Rosselli M, Ardila A. Desarrollo cognoscitivo y maduración cerebral. En Rosselli M, Ardila A, Pineda D, Lopera F (Eds). Neuropsicología infantil. Avances en investigación, teoría y práctica. Medellín: Prensa Creativa, 1997.
  7. Ruíz E. Cómo mejorar la atención de los niños con síndrome de Down. Rev Síndrome de Down 2013; 30: 63-75.
¿Qué es la atención? Problemas y actividades para trabajar la atención
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¿Qué es la atención? Problemas y actividades para trabajar la atención
La atención es la capacidad de generar, dirigir y mantener un estado de activación adecuado para el procesamiento correcto de la información.
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