Attention

          Our senses receive 11 million bits of information every second but we consciously register approximately only 40 bits of information and for that we should thank the process of attention.

      Attention is a cognitive process that governs our everyday life. It is a very important process that select the information that should get into our short term memory and the information that should stay in our sensory memory and therefore be eliminated instantly.

I. Types of attention

         Attention has different types: voluntary, involuntary and non voluntary attention. Voluntary attention is seen when we pay attention to something we want to see or we are focussing at. Involuntary attention on the other hand is the type of attention you do not want to have. Let us say for example that you are paying attention to a lecture in this case you would be experiencing voluntary attention, but let us imagine that one of your friends starts talking next to you, when you start hearing what he is saying against your will this would be involuntary attention. And last we have non voluntary attention, to explain this type of attention let us go back to the example given above, when you start paying attention to your friend but cannot take your attention away from him to listen to the lecture then here the attention you have starts bothering you which makes it non voluntary. Keep this example in your mind because we will comeback to it later.

II. characteristics of attention

         Attention has different characteristics that makes it unique. Well first of all it is a cognitive, conative and affective phenomenon. It is also known for its shifty nature, to see that let us go back to the same example above, when you were paying attention to the lecture and your friend started talking. Here you can see that your attention turned to your friend automatically which proves the shifty nature of attention. Another important characteristic and actually in my opinion the most important one is the selective nature of attention.

       Donald Broadbent proposed that selective attention acts as a filter between sensory stimuli and our processing system. If a stimulus is attended to,it will be passed through the filter and analyzed further. If not, it will be lost. Another idea to keep in mind is that According to Broadbent, selective attention is an all or nothing process: if we attend to something,we do not attend to the other things around. For example when you are in a loud place and your trying to solve a complicated math equation you will concentrate on the equation in a way that will make the place seem like if it is quiet.

       To study selective attention psychologists use a technique called dichotic listening in this technique each ear is presented with a different stimulus and participants are asked after that to follow one stimulus. The result of this method shows that participants can indeed concentrate on one stimulus and damp the other one like if does not even exist.

A concept that contradicts with this idea is the cocktail phenomenon. This concept states that you can concentrate on one thing while not ignoring the background. For example if you are in a party and you are fully concentrated on a conversation and someone says your name in the middle of the party you will turn your face towards him despite the fact that you were concentrated on something else. Hence selective attention is not an all or none filter like Broadbent thinks, but rather a filter that separate the things you want to know from the things you do not want to know.

         Let us finish this topic with the interesting law "Yerkes-Dodson law". Yerkes-Dodson law is a law related to attention and its connection with your level of arousal. This law states that attention is worst at extremely low or extremely high levels of arousal. So it is obvious that your attention would not be at it best state when you are tired, but next time you want to use coffee to make your arousal level better you should think twice before doing that, because maybe it would just make your level of arousal higher than needed and you will end up being awake all night long without studying anything.

See Also:

Sensation

Threshold 

Perception

Perception and experience