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Chapter II, Voluntary Attention and the Psichology of Attention

Chapter II, Voluntary Attention and the Psichology of Attention

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Published by: Svetlana on Feb 15, 2009
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01/28/2013

 
35
CHAPTER
II.
VOLUNTARY ATTENTION.
VOLUNTARV
 
or artificial attention is a product ofart, of education, of direction, and of training.It isgrafted, as it were, upon spontaneous or natural at-tention, and finds in the latter its conditions of ex-istence, as the graft does in the stock, into which ithas been inserted.In spontaneous attention the ob- ject acts by its intrinsic power
;
in voluntary attentionthe subject acts through extrinsic, that is, throughsuperadded powers.In voluntary attention the aimis no longer set by hazard or circumstances; it iswilled, chosen, accepted or, at least, submitted to
;
itis mainly a question of adapting ourselves to it, and offinding the proper means for maintaining the state
;
andhence voluntary attention is always accompanied by acertain feeling of effort.The maximum of spontaneousattention and the maximum of voluntary attention aretotally antithetic
;
the one running in the direction ofthe strongest attraction, the other in the direction ofthe greatest resistance. They constitute the two polarlimits between which all possible degrees are found,with a definite point at which, in theory at least, thetwo forms meet.Although voluntary attention is almost the onlyform that psychologists have studied, and though tothe majority it constitutes all of attention, its
mechan
 
36
PSYCNOLOGY
OF 
ATIENTlON.
ism, nevertheless, has not been any better understood.In attempting to arrive at some
comprehens’ion
of it,we first propose to investigate how voluntary attentionis formed, to inquire into its genesis; then we shallstudy the feeling of effort by which it is accompanied,and finally the phenomena of arrested motion or
iphi-bition,
which, in our opinion, play a principal part inthe mechanism. of attention.The process through which
volun’tary
attention isformed, may be reduced to the following single for-mula: To render attractive, by artifice, what is not soby nature; to give an artificial interest to things thathave not
anatural
interest.I use the word ((interest
in the ordinary sense, as equivalent to the periphrase :anything that keeps the mind on the alert.But the mindis only kept alert by the agreeable, disagreeable, ormixed
actio’n
of objects upon it, that is, by emotionalStates.With this difference however, that here the feel-ings that sustain attention, are acquired, superadded,not spontaneous, as in its primitive manifestations.The whole question, accordingly,
IS
reduced to thefinding of effective motives; if the latter be wanting,voluntary attention does not appear.Such is the process in general
;
in practice, how-ever, it becomes infinitely diversified.In order properly to understand the genesis of vol-untary attention, the best way will be to study chil-dren and the higher animals.The simplest exampleswill prove the most instructive.During the earliest period of its life the child is
 
only capable of spontaneous attention.It fixes itsgaze only upon shining objects, and upon the faces ofits mother or nurse.Toward the end of the thirdmonth it explores its field of vision, by degrees allow-ing its eyes to rest
upon
objects less and less interest-ing (Preyer).The same takes place in regard to theother senses
;
there is a slow transition
,from
that whichis of greatest concern to that which is of least concern.The fixing of the gaze, which later becomes intenseattention, is outwardly expressed by the more markedcontraction of various muscles.Attention in the in-fant isaccompanied by a certain emotional state, whichPreyer calls
‘the
emotion of astonishment.” At its high-est point, this state produces a temporary immobilityof the muscles.According to Dr. Sikorski, “aston-ishment, or rather. the emotion that accompanies thepsychic process of attention, is chiefly characterizedby the momentary suspension of respiration-a
str’ik-
ing phenomenon indeed, after being accustomed tothe rapid respiration of children.“* It is almost im-possible to tell, at what period the first appearance ofwill takes place.Preyer claims to have noticed in-dications of will toward the fifth month, but in itsimpulsive, form
;
as a power of inhibition it appearsmuch later.So
lqng
as the psychic life thus remains in the ten-tative epoch, attention, that is, the transfer of themind from one object to another, is determined onlyby the objects’ power of attraction.The birth of vol-untary attention, the power of fastening the mind uponnon-attractive objects, can only be accomplished by
.force,
under the influence of education, whether de-

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