What is Attention?

Amtul Malahat
6 min readMar 6, 2021

What is meant by attention? Attention is a phase of awareness of your surroundings. It is the ability to effectively deal with one type of information and blocking out other details. However, people’s attention is determined by the way attention is directed towards them, and they do not have any control over the situation, for example, if the person is trying to concentrate on a specific task but his attention is diverted toward some other thing uncontrollably. Following are types of attention we’ll discuss here.

Selective Attention:

Selective attention is when you are concentrating on the desired person or any task you are performing. Sometimes, it can be hard to concentrate when your surrounding is noisy like restaurant packed with people or concerts, you need to give full attention to the person you are with. You have to tune out all other features of the environment and focus on one person. The neural function that is responsible for selective attention is a path from the amygdala to the thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN). Corpus amygdaloideum evaluates the physical features of stimuli which is important to analyze and transmits to other parts of the brain. It is the main source of attentional processing.

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Psychologist, William James in his book The Principle of Psychology says that:

“Focalization, concentration, of consciousness, is of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatter-brained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German”

There are many theories to observe the selective attention to focus the experimental psychology. In 1958, a theory was developed called Broadbent’s filter model in which a filter stores the important information and blocks the others.

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Selective attention can be damaged or weaken by diseases such as Alzheimer’s, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia, or autism. It is treatable and you can boost it by exercising or proper sleeping.

Divided Attention:

Divided attention is performing more than one task at a time or uses more than one stimulus at once. It is more common in modern days when people spend more time on their phones while performing other tasks. It allows us to absorb different information and carry out multiple errands at once. To study the divided attention, each task is performed separately to evaluate the performance of individual ability to focus on one task, and then two task performance is evaluated to highlight the comparison between the performances that whether more than one task can be done or not. If there is a major decrease in performance means doing multiple tasks at once is not a great idea. Attention is not divided equally it means cognitive demands are incredible to avoid interruption.

Divided attention is designed to check whether multiple tasks can be done without unequal attention or not. It is important in academics when listening to the lectures carefully and taking notes from the board at a time. It can be the reason students with disorders like ADHD performs weakly in school. This skill can be developed or improved by practicing multiple tasks and evaluate your performance to check the ability of multitasking. Consistent training is necessary to improve this ability and should be practiced daily for about 15 to 20 minutes a day.

Image Source: Open press

Executive Attention:

Executive attention is the enhancement of processing specific information to obtain the desired goal. It involves focusing and resolving struggles among your emotions such as thoughts, feelings. Its role of managing material in short-term memory, executive attention efficiently blocks out the distraction from main attention. This way brains keep the relevant information active and focused. This ability of focusing differ from person to person, some people find it hard to handle the maximum amount of information at a certain time. This ability can be measured through a test, you have to keep a list of some items in your memory when you are performing a different task. For example, reading a book and then recall the small details or words from the book to recall your memory. It is measured by the number of small details you recall. This type of test can predict the person’s ability to perform tasks. Working memory limit is related to the general intelligence of the person.

Executive attention involves the frontal lobes in terms of brain activity. If frontal lobes are damaged, it can cause a condition which is called dysexecutive syndrome that can affect the basic role of executive attention controlling thoughts, emotions, or behaviors. It is noticed that considerable reduction in the patient’s ability to make plans or initiate a goal. This syndrome is considered rude or inappropriate due to behavior changes and it causes by a large intake of drugs or alcohol.

Task/System or product designing to support attention

Image source: ux studio team

Today’s world is becoming noisy day by day. The noise environmental effects are causing problems to pay attention to one thing. People should get more concerned on what are the things they should pay attention to in overestimated lives. When thousands of new businesses are introducing in the market, it difficult to pay attention to the best product. Or from the other side, it is difficult for businessmen to attract the attention of their users. So, there some highlights of useful products supporting attention. Designing is necessary for terms of what people can do cognitively. The responsibility UX designers have is what happens with users inside of a product, how they conform to the human psychological bottlenecks, and how to adjust their product design. So, what designers do in the situation when they do not want to divert user’s attention to other businesses. They just want to adjust the cognitive load by the proper amount of attention giving to their users. Designers do not just grab the attention or scare their users away. First, understand the specific need of users what they want in the product and how they want it, then start designing it to attract their attention.

Some basic principles should be considered to designing the customer’s attention. The clear objective directs towards attention, it means if you have a clear goal in the mind, your brain will function towards that goal considering all the environmental changes blocking out all the distractions. It is called task-positive functioning. But, if your goal is not clear, or your mind wanders when focusing on one thing. These circumstances make us open to whatever comes our way, aside from when it requires plenty of our intellectual limits. It is called task-negative mode. So, have a crystal-clear goal is the key to success.

When designing, consider varying content, adding images, videos, or GIFs to your website to attract users. It is more advisable to attract attention through catchy videos or images, that users find amusing because Nobody has time for reading the long text without any excitement.

The audience already struggles with focusing attention on one direction or sometimes they become exhausted with all the distractions and steered away from it. What can be done to obtain the solution to this problem, reduce the cognitive load from users, don’t push it too hard to sell your business instead use patterns and design principles. Gestalt principles can be used on UI patterns. But before applying it to your actual users, take a test run and make sure they find the pattern more intuitive.

The most important aspect to keep in mind when designing to support attention is an ethical impression. Regardless of the internet addiction to human health, there is always an opportunity to do good. For example, while designing for gaming you can restrict parental instruction to users to combat the addiction of this use. Apple screen time is a famous feature that monitors the screen time and prevents overdose of the product. You need to design proactively to attract users to your product.

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Amtul Malahat

An Engineer by profession and a content writer as a beginner.