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attention

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

Attention

 

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.

REFERENCES

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).

N. F. DOBRYNIN

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