Types of Attention: Explore How Your Mind Focuses

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Last Update Date: 15 April 2021

Understanding attention and its types are critical for improving our ability to live our lives efficiently. In order to fully master the attention mechanism, it is also necessary to learn both the external or internal factors that strengthen and affect it.

So let's start with the basics and talk about the definition of attention before going through the attention processes and types of attention.

What is Attention?

Attention can generally be defined as the ability to produce, select, manage and maintain sufficient stimulation at a specific amount of time to process any kind of information. It takes place on the cognitive level and has different types.

Attention is the key to achieve optimum functionality in our lives. The way to do this is to parse the factors or stimuli we encounter as relevant or irrelevant. Actually, this is when we make the most basic choices regarding the topics we are interested in or not.

Determining Factors That Influence the Functioning of Attention

As we mentioned before, attention is not a one-way process. There are a number of factors for a stimulus to attract our attention. Only a stimulus based on these factors triggers our cognitive functions and can initiate cognitive processing.

It is possible to examine these factors that attract our attention and maintain focus in two main groups:

1- Internal Factors

These determinants are personal because they depend on the individual's own cognitive resources and brain functions. Some of them can be listed as follows:

  • Mental condition
  • Needs
  • Emotions
  • Mindset
  • Interests
  • Motivation
  • Physical state

2- External Factors

These determinants are usually based on the characteristics of the stimuli or come from our surroundings. Some of them can be listed as follows:

  • Intensity
  • Uniqueness
  • Size
  • Color
  • Emotional Burden
  • Contrast

Increasing your attention and focus is the key to success. To improve it by boosting your internal factors like your mental condition, physical-organic state or mindset, exercising is the most useful thing to do. MentalUP Attention Games App is designed by academicians and doctors especially to support cognitive development with 15-minute daily exercises.

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The Four Types of Attention

There are several types of attention and they are shown in the chart below:

Selective Attention

Sounds interesting? We have an article about selective attention which you can learn more about it: Selective Attention: What Is It? How Can You Test and Improve It?

Divided Attention

We use divided attention while simultaneously paying attention to two or more tasks. This ability is also called Multitasking. Divided attention uses mental focus on a very large scale. Nonetheless, this does not allow the brain to fully focus on any task. Therefore, this type of attention does not last for long.

Alternating Attention

Alternating attention is the ability to change the focus of your attention and switch between different tasks. In this type of attention, mental flexibility is required so that one task does not limit the performance of others.

Sustained Attention

We often use sustained attention for tasks that take a long time or require intense focus. This type of attention allows one to consistently perform a certain mental activity. For example, when children study for an exam, any kind of it like the 7 plus exam, they need to read the information in a textbook for several hours.

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Differences Among the Types of Attention

Focusing on
Unconsciously creating a mental focus on a single task or idea at once while ignoring others Placing mental focus on multiple tasks or ideas at once by giving some attention to each Rapidly shifting mental focus from one task or idea to another Consciously creating a mental focus on a single task or idea at once while completely disregarding others
Amount of
Increases the amount of attention being directed to a task or idea because of a single focus taking place Minimizes the amount of attention being placed on any task or idea if there are multiple focuses going on at once Decreases the amount of attention being placed on any task or idea if there are shifted focuses going on Maximizes the amount of attention being placed on a task or idea because there is a single focus occurring at once
Condition on Distractions &
Switching tasks
Successful tuning out of distractions and switching tasks. Unsuccessful tuning out of distractions and switching tasks Good at shifting between distractions and switching tasks Excellent at tuning out distractions, and does not switch between tasks
Strengthens cognitive ability Weakens cognitive ability the most Weakens cognitive ability Strengthens cognitive ability the most
Amount of Possible
Reduces the rate of making mistakes Drives to make mistakes Increase the rate of making mistakes Prevents from making mistakes
Receiving Side
Allows to miss important side information Prevents missing important side information Prevents missing important side information Allows to miss important side information

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If you want to learn more, you can visit MentalUP's blog, in which we have gathered lots of other useful articles about how to improve children's attention skills: Go to MentalUP Blog!