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Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things. Attention has also been referred to as the allocation of processing resources.[1]

Examples include listening carefully to what someone is saying while ignoring other conversations in a room (the cocktail party effect) or listening to a cell phone conversation while driving a car.[2] Attention is one of the most intensely studied topics within psychology and cognitive neuroscience.

William James, in his textbook Principles of Psychology, remarked:

Attention remains a major area of investigation within education, psychology and neuroscience. Areas of active investigation involve determining the source of the signals that generate attention, the effects of these signals on the tuning properties of sensory neurons, and the relationship between attention and other cognitive processes like working memory and vigilance. A relatively new body of research is investigating the phenomenon of traumatic brain injuries and their effects on attention.


History of the study of attention

1850s to 1900s

In James' time, the method more commonly used to study attention was introspection. However, as early as 1858, Franciscus Donders used mental chronometry to study attention and it was considered a major field of intellectual inquiry by such diverse authors as Sigmund Freud. One major debate in this period was whether it was possible to attend to two things at once (split attention). Walter Benjamin described this experience as "reception in a state of distraction." This disagreement could only be resolved through experimentation.

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