Attention is the focus of consciousness, which is compared with a stream that flows constantly. All our thoughts, sensation, ideas and experience constitute this stream of consciousness.
Attention enables the individual to gain these experiences. It also involves specific physical adjustments. When we see an attentive class with pin-drop silence, we can have picture of such adjustments which help attention. These physical adjustments are necessary for bringing out the importance of attention.
Firstly, attention increases efficiency. Woodworth shows the familiar instances of readiness or preparedness for action in the military command of “attention” and the athletic call of “Ready”. These signals bring about an increased state of motor readiness for responding very quickly to the instruction, “Go”!
Secondly, attention improves sensory discrimination. Like a bright searchlight it shows the details of the landscape. All objects given attention are shown prominent or stand out more prominently. They enter into the focus of consciousness and thus sensory discrimination is improved by attention.
Thirdly attention is useful for acquisition of skill. The typist or the cyclist or the cricket player pays attention to the hands and movements, to co-ordination and control. When the skill is adequately developed, such attention is no longer required.
Lastly, attention is helpful for remembering. When attention is paid to certain specific areas or objects, concentration helps to know the details and retain them accurately. Other things which are not properly attended to be not remembered well and as such are forgotten as soon as possible.
Factors Facilitating Attention
The factors that facilitate attention may be classified into two main types: (i) objective factors which depend on the nature of the object attended to and (ii) subjective factors which depend on the interest, tastes, tendency and disposition of the individual. These factors under these two categories may be discussed as follows:
Mainly consist of (i) Intensity (ii) Size (iii) Repetition, (iv) Novelty, (v) Movement and (vi) Systematic form.
A strong stimulus calls for attention. When stimulation becomes intense, attention becomes capturing. For example, bright light or strong sound draws immediate attention.
Bigness in size works as a great stimulus in this respect. It is natural that a large object draws attention more than a small one.
A stimulus given repeatedly attracts attention. Knocking the door repeatedly or calling of the mother several times draws attention easily.
An unfamiliar object draws our attention more than familiar object. Even a familiar object in an unfamiliar setting, draws our attention. An unusually dressed person catches everybody’s attention.
Any change or movement in the setting draws our attention. That is why; shop windows and advertisements are displays with changing lights.
(vi) Systematic From
Objects with systematic shape and clear-cut outline draw more attention than the objects with indistinct and indefinite forms. Decoration of light in the form of an elephant or arrangement of flowers in a particular design becomes more attractive.
Subjective Factors a mainly consist of (i) Instincts and (ii) Emotions which belong to the individual, whose attention is drawn towards particular objectives.
Anything that suits or appeals the instinct or the individual is apt to draw more attention than the other. Successful advertisements are those which make strong appeal to one or more of our instincts like sex and fear. The advertisements of materials ranging from toothpaste to radio or TV sets are made with pictures of glamour girls or smart young men in attractive garments and poses. Nowadays these pictures are used extensively to attract the attention of customers for sales promotion.
Emotion is an important stimulus for drawing our attention. It is on account of various emotions that we tend to be attentive towards those things to which we are not attentive in our ordinary life and vice versa also. For example, when we are aggrieved and sad, even the sweetest music may not attract our attention or in joyful mood our heart may dance to the tune of an ordinary music. When we are angry, the slightest mistake done by our children may make us furious, whereas in our pleasant mood their serious blunder may not draw our attention so much. Similarly, when we are lonely in a deep forest, we may be scared by the little sound of a falling leaf or in the dead of a night a slight movement inside our room may draw our immediate attention. Thus, it is our experience that attention is governed more often than not by various emotions.
Types of Attention Contribute to Learning
Attention is generally of two types; (i) the voluntary and (ii) the involuntary. The voluntary attention is usually imposed on the individual by some such motives as reward or punishment. This kind of attention is forced and unnatural and does not get whole-hearted support. For example, when a school child is compelled to attend to the school work out of the teacher’s punishment, such attention is called voluntary attention. On the other hand, involuntary attention depends on the person who attends to it. It is passive and free and dependent on the quality of the stimulus. No efforts are necessary for drawing such attention and it is the striking quality of the object that attracts the same. For instance, when we hear a sweet song our attention is automatically drawn to it.
Another kind of attention is called random attention. It is usually effortless and involuntary. This is the most rudimentary form of attention. It is also unlearned and characteristic attention of the young child. Attention of this type is of fluctuating nature and cannot be sustained for long time. There is no goal or purpose in it and no real or genuine interest in the object that draws the attention.
The fourth kind of attention is known as no volitional attention. It is spontaneous and self generating as the individual has the real interest in the object itself. Such attention is effortless and the example of this attention may be found in the school child who is genuinely interested in the work.