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Related to attention: attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, attention deficit disorder, Selective attention, ATTN


Psychol the act of concentrating on any one of a set of objects or thoughts



a characteristic of psychological activity that expresses itself in concentration and direction of the consciousness upon a fixed object. The direction of the consciousness is understood to mean the selective character of psychic activity—the choosing of a given object from a certain field of possible objects.

The three types of attention that may be distinguished are involuntary, voluntary, and postvoluntary attention. Involuntary, or passive, attention takes place when the selection of an object of activity is made without a previously set goal and without premeditation. If the selection is made consciously and intentionally, then the attention is voluntary or active. Voluntary attention is an act of the will; it is inherent only in man and came into being during the development of labor: “Besides the exertion of the bodily organs, the process of labor demands that, during the whole operation, the workman’s will be steadily in consonance with his purpose. This means close attention” (K. Marx, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 189). An activity may engage a man in such a way that its accomplishment does not require special efforts of will from him; the presence of a goal in conjunction with an absence of efforts of will is characteristic of postvoluntary attention.

Attention arises, exists, and develops in activity and is a necessary condition for the activity to be consciously carried out. The direct cause of the arousal of attention is the meaningfulness for the personality of external stimuli (their subjective novelty, intensity, contrastive quality, etc.). The specific traits of attention are determined by means of the characteristics of persistence, range, distribution, and possibility of shifting of attention. The persistence of attention is the capacity to maintain an object of activity within the field of consciousness for a fixed period of time; moreover, the time interval of persistence may vary from fractions of a second to several hours. The range of attention is the number of objects that may be perceived and apprehended by a person within a relatively short space of time; range of attention may be determined with the aid of a tachistoscope. If the objects are discrete or not connected by any semantic link (for example, a group of letters of the alphabet), then the range of attention does not exceed 3 to 6; when a semantic link is present, the range increases greatly (for example, words or sentences). The distribution of attention is the capacity to maintain simultaneously in the field of consciousness objects of several different activities. The term “shifting of attention” refers to the peculiarities of switching in the field of consciousness from the objects of one activity to objects of another.

Attention became the object of intensive psychological study at the turn of the 20th century, when with its help attempts were made to explain the most diverse phenomena of the psyche. Because of this, the concept “attention” came to include a great number of different meanings. The original motor theory of attention was put forth by the Russian psychologist N. N. Lange, who related attention to the movements that a person performs during the perception or the imagination of an object. The materialistic treatment of attention was provided by the French psychologist T. Ribot, who conceived of attention as a series of adaptive reflexes. In present-day psychology a number of problems that have been studied previously in connection with attention are now examined within the framework of research in mental set and short-term (operative) memory. At the same time the study of attention has acquired enormous importance in connection with the creation of complex modern technical systems and man’s specific activity in their operation, which demands finely tuned and well-developed attention mechanisms. Attention is also studied in pedagogical psychology.


Dobrynin, N. F. Vnimanie i ego vospitanie. Moscow, 1951.
Dobrynin, N. F. “Osnovnye voprosy psikhologii vnimaniia.” In Psikhologicheskaia nauka v SSSR, vol. 1. Moscow, 1959.
Ribot, T. Psikhologiia vnimaniia, 3rd ed. St. Petersburg, 1897. (Translated from French.)
Uznadze, D. N. “Problema vnimaniia (v svete teorii ustanovki).” In Psikhologiia, vol. 4. Tbilisi, 1947. (In Georgian, with a resume in Russian).


References in classic literature ?
During his oblivious attention he once quietly rested his head against Mrs.
The other, who appeared to share equally in the attention of the young officer, concealed her charms from the gaze of the soldiery with a care that seemed better fitted to the experience of four or five additional years.
Weston and Emma tried earnestly to cheer him and turn his attention from his soninlaw, who was pursuing his triumph rather unfeelingly.
John Dashwood had never been a favourite with any of her husband's family; but she had had no opportunity, till the present, of shewing them with how little attention to the comfort of other people she could act when occasion required it.
I sanction her new fancy for dressmaking, because it is sure to absorb all her attention, and to keep her at home.
An attention to these dangerous practices has produced a very natural alarm in the votaries of free government, of which frequency of elections is the corner-stone; and has led them to seek for some security to liberty, against the danger to which it is exposed.
Wherever Chromatistes, -- for by that name the most trustworthy authorities concur in calling him, -- turned his variegated frame, there he at once excited attention, and attracted respect.
We have already said that there was something in the count which attracted universal attention wherever he appeared.
Miss Bingley's attention was quite as much engaged in watching Mr.
When one speaks, the rest pay strict attention: when he is done, another assents by 'yes,' or dissents by 'no;' and then states his reasons, which are listened to with equal attention.
His coat close buttoned to his throat, and an extra silk handkerchief around his neck, which he removed only after he entered the apartment, immediately arrested the attention of Charlotte Henly.
In very many published narratives no little degree of attention is bestowed upon dates; but as the author lost all knowledge of the days of the week, during the occurrence of the scenes herein related, he hopes that the reader will charitably pass over his shortcomings in this particular.