When it comes to studying or learning, one of the most important ingredients is focus and attention. Attention is the process or act of concentrating on one or more environmental factors that your five senses experience. In case of learning, you’ll need to focus or concentrate on the subject matter being thought. But some individuals particularly those suffering from ADHD might have a concern particularly on keeping their focus and attention. This makes the learning process a challenge for them. To learn how to adapt, knowing the four kinds of attention related to cognition is a must. These include: sustained attention, alternating attention, divided attention, and selective attention.
It’s pretty simple to catch anyone’s attention but it is certainly a challenge to sustain or keep it for any considerable amount of time. Sustained attention is the ability to keep that focus or concentration for long periods of time even if the individual is exposed to the repetitive action or activity. This is the kind of attention that is usually used for majority of the learning and working activities like listening to a teacher lecture the whole hour, read books and notes the whole night to review, in answering test or exercise questions, completing an extensive project, or perhaps, regularly working on a repetitive task. This kind of attention should be very beneficial but it is the kind that is oftentimes very hard to acquire or achieve.
When faced with a number of environmental factors or stimuli, the human brain naturally responds by selecting a particular aspect or factor to focus on. This is known as selective attention. Selective attention is the ability to select from the many factors or stimuli and focus to only one that you prefer or your brain selects. This is not really a special and hard to achieve kind of attention. Almost all people use this cognitive ability almost all the time. Every day, people are usually exposed to a number of environmental factors at home, at the school, at the office, etc but their brains respond by focusing only to the particular factors that matter most or those that people choose to focus on. By better understanding it however, the person is better able to select the appropriate stimuli to devote his or her attention to.
The next kind of attention is the alternating type. As its name suggests, it’s the ability to switch or immediately transfer your focus or concentration from one activity to another. The brain also instantly adapts even if the succeeding activity has a different level of knowledge or comprehension required. Similar to selective attention, alternating attention is also an ability that is used almost all the time. Every day, you need to make sudden changes on your activity or action which also requires your attention to shift.
The last kind of attention related to cognition is an interesting one, divided attention. Divided attention is the ability of an individual to focus or concentrate on two or more environmental factors, stimuli, or activities simultaneously. In its simplest form of explanation, experts call it the ability to multi-task. Multi-tasking is considered a desirable talent for those who are gifted with this ability. But, this means that it will be very difficult for other people to acquire this skill. Divided attention or the ability to multi-task can be learned through practice or gaining expertise in a certain kind of activity.
Behavioral inhibition, sustained attention, and executive functions: Constructing a unifying theory of ADHD.
Barkley, Russell A., Psychological Bulletin, Vol 121(1), Jan 1997, 65-94. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.121.1.65