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Attention and Perception 1


Attention and Perception

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Attention and Perception

Attention Defined

Attention is a selective concentration, it is the process of allowing one to focus on

what is important and to ignore what is insignificant. Much of the process happens

subconsciously i.e. without any effort or awareness. Whereas, voluntary attention is a link

between the thoughts and emotions we intentionally choose to dwell upon. Listening

carefully to one person, while ignoring other voices in a room, is a prime example of

selective concentration. We can surmise that it defines the difference between listening and

hearing. Attention is the thread that holds together the fabric of our consciousness.

In other words "attention refers to several different capacities or processes that are

related to aspects of how the organism becomes receptive to stimuli and how it may begin

processing incoming or attended-to excitation" (Lezak, M. 1995. Neuropsychological

assessment, p. 39).

The Nature of Attention Process

This process of selective filtering occurs at various levels: peripherally at the sensory

level, and centrally at the more interpretive level. The processes like focusing, linking,

inhibiting, connecting, interpreting, and then storing information are all joined by this thread,

called attention and entail many cognitive and affective structures in our brain.

Inhibitory Aspects of Attention

The ability of not speaking or acting impetuously is a significant part of maturation,

and needs learning, usually from negative experiences.

Reflective Attention

One not only pays attention to the external world, but also focuses considerably on

his/her internal feelings, thoughts, and memories. Memory itself serves as an emotional filter:

In times of happiness and optimism, one tends to recall and predict positive experiences;
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whereas in anxious times or depression one tends to notice and recall demoralizing


Executive Functions and Attention

The ability to make efficient and timely decisions needs continuous attention. The ability to

rummage around memory, to associate current feeling to immediate situation and link this

experience to previous memories, is a particularly attention-demanding task. Planning and

working memory are necessary parts of executive function. The competence to proceed as we

intend needs continual attention, even in presence of distractions and in phases of declining

interest or escalating weariness.


The supreme evolutionary advancement that distinguishes humans from other primates is

developmental complexity of language and reasoning, although these are clearly separate

processes, still they are somewhat interconnected. Language includes integration of sensory

visual and auditory processes, with a comprehension of intention associated to motivation

and empathy. (Dykeman, B. F. (1998). Historical and Contemporary Models of Attention

Processes with Implications for Learning)


The property of maintaining interest and attaching and keeping attention is mediated by the

nucleus accumbens (the center of pleasure or reinforcement).


The capability to understand the meaning and worth of an event is associated with our ability

to interpret social cues and development of interpersonal strategies. Most of our attention is

focused towards internal initiation, like reflection or problem-solving about something not in

our immediate sensory environment. This entails the skill of interpreting connotation in its

conceptual background which is necessary to the appreciation of sarcasm and humor. This
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process of interpretation and reasoning is linked with memory as well as with visual and

auditory sensory systems. (Hunt, R. D. (2006). The Neurobiology of ADHD. Medscape

Psychiatry & Mental Health)
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Dykeman, B. F. (1998). Historical and Contemporary Models of Attention Processes with

Implications for Learning. Education, Vol. 119.

Hunt, R. D. (2006). The Neurobiology of ADHD. Medscape Psychiatry & Mental Health.

Sep. 2006; 11(2) ©2006 Medscape.

Lezak, M. (1995). Neuropsychological assessment (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University