The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. This is responsible for exercising centralized control and sending rapid and coordinated responses to the other organs of the body. These responses are sent according to the stimuli that are sent from the environment. These stimuli interconnect different parts of the brain, where information is decoded and returned in the form of a nerve impulse .
One of the main brain functions is that of attention ; a mental ability that helps us to generate and maintain active brain functions that allow us to properly process information.
What is attention?
Attention is limited brain function. This allows us to concentrate on our visual environment and allows us to select and filter aspects of our daily life , in order to prioritize what is really important. But when we pay attention to what seems important to us, we stop paying attention to the rest of the things.
According to William James (psychologist and philosopher), attention is to take conscious possession of the mind to focus on something specific, this implies the withdrawal of some things to be able to effectively treat others.
For Daniel Simons (a psychologist specializing in human perception, memory and consciousness), our brain cannot pay attention to everything around us , and that is why it evolved to focus its attention on what really matters. In such an evolution an interconnection of the brain parts is created through shortcuts, which help you reduce the world to its essentials.
From a dynamic point of view, attention is considered a mental inhibition, since attending to something means not paying attention to the rest, fixing and limiting our thinking on what interests us at that moment.
The care process goes through different stages. These stages do not refer to the objects that we attend, but rather refer to the clarity, liveliness and penetration of the psychic process itself. They are divided according to the degree of intensity of care:
- Presence of the object: the mere presence of the object is what gives us the lowest degree of a conscious content, which exists even if attention itself is lacking.
- Attitude towards the object: the attitude of taking note of the object means that we refer carefully to it; on that basis we will go on to organize our subsequent activities.
- Verification of the object: when we verify an object it means that we voluntarily stay on the matter and try to fix the object in our mind.
Types of care
Sustained attention is the ability of an individual to maintain concentration for long periods of time , even if the individual is exposed to repetitive action or activity.
Selective attention is the ability to select between various stimuli and focus concentration on the one of greatest importance or the one that the brain selects. This is the easiest type of care to achieve and the most used on a daily basis by most people.
Internal and external care
Inner attention is the ability of an individual to understand their own mental processes , for example: their thoughts. The state of inner attention can be found in practices such as meditation or mindfulness .
External attention is the ability of an individual to identify and focus on external factors , for example: the sound of birds.
It is the ability to immediately transfer the concentration of one activity or object to another. It is about alternating attention between two or more tasks that cannot be performed simultaneously. Like selective attention, alternating attention is used by people very frequently.
Voluntary and involuntary care
Voluntary attention is when the concentration is fixed on a specific element, which we decide to prioritize ; Unlike involuntary attention, which is when a stimulus reaches the brain with a force greater than that of another stimulus and monopolizes the attention of our mind.
Divided attention, or also called multitasking, is the ability of an individual to focus on two or more environmental factors or stimuli simultaneously. In this process, the brain allows to distribute the attention to different tasks or different objectives that the same task requires. This ability is difficult to acquire and only a small percentage of the population are endowed with this ability.
Physiological and psychological conditions of attention
Physiological conditions accompanying attention include motor, circulatory, and respiratory reactions.
Motor reactions occur when we attend to an object or situation with energy. At that time certain movements take place such as: adaptation of the sense organs, muscle contractions and, in general, bodily attitudes that act as an aid to our consciousness to make the process of attention more effective. One of the most noticeable movements is the contraction of the facial muscles, mainly the frontal ones.
Blood circulation is altered , noticing an increase and acceleration in the brain and a decrease – accompanied by phenomena such as the narrowing of blood vessels – in other parts of the body. A change in respiratory rhythm is also observed ; this becomes so accelerated that the intermediate pause between the acts of breathing disappears, or so slow that it tends to suspend these acts. The latter can happen when we try, for example, to pay attention to a small noise or a small movement.
Duration of care
The partial effort of attention can be metaphorically compared to a wave: the distance that separates the crest from the base of the wave would represent the magnitude of the mental effort. But if we are facing a case of continuous care, we could compare it with the swaying of the waves. Attention is fluctuating, it does not have a homogeneous continuity, but intermittent; In it there are oscillations that translate into different degrees of clarity, which can present the same contents of consciousness at different moments of the psychic process.
The care has a limited duration. This occurs because it is caused by a particular reason and depends on multiple psychic and organic conditions.
An attempt has been made to measure the duration of attention, that is, the time that a certain matter remains in the focus of consciousness. Some authors affirm that our attention can only reach a minimum concentration of 3 to 20 seconds (in the least relevant matters) or 3 to (in the most relevant matters). Other authors estimate that the limit for the duration of attention in important matters can reach up to 30 minutes of concentration.
The duration of care may vary depending on certain factors such as: age, personality, physical condition, profession, psychological condition, etc. Therefore we understand that the duration of care is totally relative.
In situations of stress or fatigue, it has been proven that there is a decrease in the ability to concentrate. For example: if we are performing a task but we are exhausted, our mind begins to make an increasing effort to achieve concentration; but there comes a time when it is necessary to stop and we are forced to abandon what we were doing – in this case a task. In this case our attention will have reached the limit of its resistance.
When the limit of resistance of attention is reached, what we know as dispersion of consciousness begins . This dispersion is accompanied by multiple physiological phenomena. When we are in a state of dispersion of consciousness, the intensity of the contents, the strength of the associations and the general level of mental concentration decreases more and more.
In the 1970s, some researchers began to recognize a phenomenon in which people often did not detect changes in their visual field when an unexpected factor entered. This phenomenon was called change blindness.
Change blindness is the lack of attention that an individual presents towards a completely visible but unexpected object ; it is not being able to distinguish a big change from one moment to the next. This occurs when the subject has his attention fixed on another task, event or object.
“It went unnoticed” How many times have we heard that phrase? Going unnoticed is directly related to this process. Our mind provides information to the stimuli that have the highest priority or those that reach our brain with greater force, discarding the rest that have gone “unnoticed.”
Our brain only allows us to focus on one thing at a time , so attention is focused on what has the highest priority.
Sometimes when we look around us, we think we are seeing everything that is happening in front of us. But that impression is a misleading perception. Actually looking and seeing do not mean the same thing , since when we look we are taking a quick glance around us and our senses are bombarded by continuous waves of stimuli, which provoke a variety of sensations that exceed our brain capacity; but when we see , we are slowly and carefully observing and analyzing an object, with its minute and minute details.
Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.