“Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.” ― Susan Sontag
Attention is key for both growth and development, especially in young kids. There could be several distractions like the child who is overly sensitive to sensory input may over-respond to the slightest sounds, textures, sights, scents, tastes, or motions. They tend to struggle to attend to simple commands.
Other children might be able to focus with ease when their concentration is challenged. Inattention can lead to indifference, disregard, forgetfulness, carelessness, disinterest, neglect, or thoughtlessness.
When a child is struggling to complete tasks, lack of attention could be one of the many reasons and as a parent or an educator, it is important to work towards this and help the child.
Let us first understand the different types of attention and their implications.
1. Focused Attention: This is when we are paying attention and not distracted by external stimuli. Here, people can channel their complete attention on a single task, and everything else is considered less important. It is also called Executive attention which blocks unimportant features of the environment. It is the attention we use when we are moving towards a particular end.
Example: Studying for an exam or working on a project.
2. Sustained Attention: It means concentrating on a certain time-consuming task. Holding attention over a period of time is necessary for the focus and concentration needed in learning, listening during lectures, or paying attention during conversations or instructions.
There are three stages of sustained attention which is called one Attention Span:
· Paying Attention − Where you start focusing.
· Keeping Attention − Where you sustain your attention.
· Ending attention − When you finally stop paying attention.
Once your attention ends, you will need time to focus again and remove distractions. Hence, you might notice that people get distracted and often leave the task incomplete, and return after they can refocus after some time. People can get better at sustained attention as they practice it.
Example: Reading a book, watching a magic trick, or watching an interesting movie. As reading requirements become more advanced in the older grades, sustained attention is challenged by chapter books and reading comprehension.
3. Selective Attention: It is when we block out certain features of our environment and focus on one particular feature. It means focusing on a single stimulus in a complex setting.
We must have the ability to focus on a particular message or object by filtering all background noise. But the problem is that people tend to neglect what is going around (even if it’s important). Hence, the message can easily be manipulated or misunderstood due to communication issues.
Consciously, and unconsciously, we are able to select the input which is most important. Having the ability to select from the many points of visual, auditory, interoceptive, and tactile stimuli in order to focus and attend to just one, is the brain’s ability to select and respond to just one factor that matters most.
Example: Listening to a conversation with a lot of surrounding noise and picking up certain parts. This is because you are choosing to focus on this one person's voice, as opposed to other surrounding distractions like other’s people voices. Another example can be a student listening to their teacher during a lesson while a lawn mower is running outside the classroom window.
4. Divided Attention: It refers to one’s ability to focus on two or more things at the same time. Multitasking is not always an easy thing to manage. The ability to hold attention to various simultaneous points of concentration can require practice.
Some instances of divided attention are easier to manage than others. For example, texting while you are trying to talk to someone in front of you is much more difficult. For kids, it can be holding a conversation while they are playing. Age, agility, the degree of adaptation, and other factors impact this ability.
Example: Simultaneously concentrating on various factors like driving and holding a conversation simultaneously. Another example is talking to a friend on the phone while you're straightening up the house.
5. Alternating Attention: This refers to the ability to switch or immediately transfer focus from one activity to another. Switching points of concentration are needed to make sudden switches in alternating attention in tasks that require different cognitive skills.
Alternating attention requires the ability to use the other attention types in tasks. Here the mind should be flexible and quick to understand and translate every piece of information gathered.
Example: Teachers and parents excel in alternating attention.
Attentional Blink: According to a theory, attention is just like vision. When we try to visualize two targets at the same time, one of them appears sharp while the other one gets blurred. Similarly, when people focus on two targets at the same time, they tend to miss the second one. When these targets are linked with strong emotions, it becomes easier to reduce attention blink.
In next week's blog, we will elaborate on various activities to improve different types of attention.