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Attention is the ability to maintain and dedicate focus to a particular task. Attention is believed to originate from sustained activity within certain areas of the brain, as of yet unknown. It is related to memory in the sense that stimuli we pay attention to will be recalled at a later time. There are multiple theories within the cognitive perspective that deal with attention.

Types of attention


According to one theory, we automatically pay attention and recognize features in an environment, which includes color, shape, size, orientation, and movement. This allows us to selectively manage a visual stimulus with one important feature by blocking other, dissimilar features.[1]

For example, a red jacket seems to "pop out" more in a crowd, especially if the rest of the crowd is not red. If the crowd had other red jackets it would take much longer to determine where the original red jacket was. This reveals how attention is a limited process.[2]


Not only is visual attention limited, but auditory attention as well. Imagine being at a party, speaking with a friend, and you hear someone mention your name, or you hear some "juicy" gossip. Your attention will be focused on that conversation instead of the previous one. This proves that it is difficult for us handle two attention-demanding tasks at the same time.[2]

Selective-listening is what we do with auditory information that is not attended to. Researcher Colin Cherry demonstrated "The Cocktail Party Effect" in a selective-listening study (1953). Participants wore headphones that delivered a single message to one ear and a different message to the other. Each individual was required to attend to one message and "shadow" it by repeating it aloud. The participants often had no knowledge of the message that they did not repeat. However, when the participant's name was given as part of the message that they did not repeat, participants would report hearing their name, but knew nothing about the rest of the message. This study reveals that information must be personally relevant, particularly loud, or different in an obvious way to be attended to.<ref="piyl"></ref>

Broadbent's Filter Model

British researcher Donald Broadbent was the first researcher to present a hypothesis as to how attention would occur, and how one can focus on specific events. This theory is known as "filter theory." Broadbent’s filter model proposes that the mind blocks out information irrelevant to what one is focusing on, such as, say, ignoring another conversation going on at the same time.[1] This idea has received criticism owing to the following situation. Assume that you are at a party, engrossed in conversation with another partygoer, and you hear your name on the side. By all likelihood, your attention would be diverted, which contridicts Broadbent's theory.

Treisman's Attenuation Model

Triesman's attenuation model is a similar theory to that of Broadbent, but it has one exception. Rather than completely blocking "irrelevant" information, Triesman proposes that the mind merely reduces the scale of the information. This attenuation is similar to having water running through two faucets. Triesman proposes that one conversation in the party example would be like having one faucet completely open (the primary conversation) and your name being the second faucet (you receive it, but you miss the rest of the conversation.) In a nutshell, this theory states that the mind does not block other information, but that it instead limits information, and lets through important information.[2] Examples of blocked information would be, for example, the word "chair" which, in the party situation, would be irrelevant to your conversation.

The Deutsch-Norman memory selection model

Unlike the previous models, the Deutsch-Norman theory states that a second selection process occurs in the procedure of determining what is and what is not irrelevant information.[3] In this model, received information is filtered for size, proximity, and other factors that determine how much attention is paid to an object, an example being as follows


As per the memory selection model, more attention was paid to the larger A, followed by a close inspection, which noticed the smaller A.

Attention in the Bible

What does the Bible say about attention? Attentiveness to the Scripture is important to God, as evident by the following verse of Proverbs 4:20 (ESV):

My son, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings."


  1. Treisman & Gelade, 1980.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Grison, Sarah, and Michael S. Gazzaniga. Psychology in Your Life. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017.

See also