Although you may not realize it, you are utilizing your attention span right now. For a moment try to take in as much visual stimuli around you as you can. While continuing to do this also pay attention to the sounds around you (cars, people, a computer hum). Try now to add in touch senses. You'll notice that maintaining attention to all these stimuli simultaneously becomes very difficult and instead you mind can tend to 'jump' between them very quickly.

What is Attention?

"Attention is a concentration of mental activity that allows you to take in a limited portion of the vast stream of information available from both your sensory world and your memory." (Matlin, 20091).

"Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things. Attention has also been referred to as the allocation of processing resources." (Anderson, 2004 2)

"Attention refers to the process by which organisms select a subset of available information upon which to focus for enhanced processing (often in a signal-to-noise-ratio sense) and integration" (Lawrence, 20083)

Types of Attention Processes

  • Divided Attention: Attention aimed at two or more stimuli simultaneously. This can lead to errors in perception and decreased accuracy.

Example; While driving, watching a car's break lights in front, while answering a passengers questions.

  • Selective Attention (focused attention): Attention aimed at one stimuli only. People can have decreased situational awareness.

Example; Listening to 1 conversation in a crowed room.

  • In-Depth: Saccadic Eye Movements: This is a perceptual process where our eyes jump very quickly from one position to another to align the eye with what you want to see.

Example; When reading this information.

Attention span

A persons attention span can be described as the amount of time one can devote their attention to a specific set of stimuli without losing focus.

It is believed that most healthy adults and teenagers should be able to maintain an attention span of at least 40 minutes. (Wiki, 20124)

1. Matlin, M. W. (2009). Cognition. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
2. Anderson, J. R. (2004). Cognitive psychology and its implications (6th ed.). Worth Publishers. p. 519. ISBN 978-0-7167-0110-1
3. Lawrence W. M.(2008). Attention Scholarpedia, 3(10):1538. Retrieved from
4. Wikipedia (2012). Attention Span Retrieved 10 August, 2012, from

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