What Is the Psychology of Attention?

Article Details
  • Written By: Lily Ruha
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 30 June 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
  • Print this Article

The psychology of attention examines the function, role and impact of attention in people's lives. Selective attention is the process of choosing which tasks and stimuli are deserving of attention. In the face of distractions, focusing intently is typically difficult for some people in certain situations. Concentration and focus for the purpose of achieving high performance also have been topics of research, particularly in sports psychology. Issues of excessive attention often persist in cases of certain mental health issues, such as attention deficit disorders, hypochondria and personality disorders.

Selective attention is a topic of considerable interest in the psychology of attention. Studies have shown that people selectively process information when presented with a variety of tasks and stimuli. Attention typically gravitates toward recognizable objects or identifiable or familiar tasks. Prevalent theories suggest that human beings are limited in the ability to focus on large numbers of stimuli at one time. Selective attention, therefore, allows for normal functioning and processing in everyday life.


The psychology of attention also examines concentration difficulties in the face of distractions. A person who is in physical pain might have difficulty focusing at work. Emotional troubles, such as grieving a loss, can impair a person's ability to focus on daily tasks. Simple distractions also might result in inattention. Placing a food wrapper on a plate and the food in the garbage, for example, is a mistake that a person might make when undergoing stress or when preoccupied with other concerns.

Mental health treatments often involve a close look at the psychology of attention. Attention deficit disorders involve the inability to concentrate or remain focused on tasks. Hypochondria is a condition in which the afflicted person gives exaggerated attention to his or her bodily aches and pains, confusing minor ailments with major health issues. Histrionic personality disorder involves the constant seeking of attention and engaging in behaviors that attract attention without regard for social norms. In anxiety disorders, persistent attention typically is given to uncontrollable or negative events.

The process of heightened human performance also has been an area of study in the psychology of attention. Too little attention or too much focus on the wrong things can be problematic for performance. Studies in sports psychology indicate that excessive attention in the form of worry often impairs sports performance. An athlete who becomes preoccupied with adverse weather conditions or a formidable opponent, for example, might shift necessary attention away from his or her own performance. Professional athletes, therefore, often undergo extensive mental preparation to tune out distractions and focus on their own abilities and strategies.



Discuss this Article

Post your comments

Post Anonymously


forgot password?