Concentration on a task.
Attention is concentration, or perceptive awareness, focused on a stimulus, such as a book or worksheet. During such periods of attention, the individual focuses on the stimuli of the task and ignores other environmental stimuli. There are distinct and measurable neurological and physiological aspects of attention, and the ability to achieve a state of attention may be limited by mental or physical dysfunctions. In fact, even short-term illnesses such as the flu can adversely affect the individual's ability to concentrate.
Psychologists use the term "attention span" to refer to the number of separate stimulus elements, or the amount of stimulus, that can be perceived and remembered after a brief presentation. Popularly, "attention span" is used to mean the amount of time that can be continuously spent in a state of attention.
Attention is directed toward a stimulus for any one of a number of reasons: as a conscious decision ("I'm going to practice the piano"); as part of social interaction (engaging in conversation with another person); as a reaction to a direction ("Please read page 35"); or as a reaction to an unexpected event (reaction to a loud noise). During the stages of development, a child's attention span increases. Researchers believe that even the youngest infants have the ability to focus attention for brief periods in response to visual and auditory stimuli. In fact, the development of attention is nurtured when caregivers provide infants with regular opportunities to focus on auditory and visual stimuli.
A fairly common cognitive disability is the inability to sustain attention or to shift it from one task to another. In children, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is a frequently diagnosed problem that affects school performance and learning. In some instances, attention deficits indicate a dysfunction in the brain's frontal lobe related to severe head injury or chronic illness. Memory and visual perception are likely also to be impaired in a student with an attention deficit.
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