paying attention, attention, focusing, focus, tbi


Attention is the process of concentrating on specific information in the environment. It allows us to screen out irrelevant information and focus on what is important. There are two forms of attention: passive attention and active attention. Passive attention is the ability to focus on something involuntarily (i.e., a sudden loud noise). It is an automatic process of the mind that is caused by external factors in the environment. Active attention, on other hand, is the ability to focus on something voluntarily (i.e., watching over the kids). This requires effort and conscious attention.  

There are five types of attention: focused, sustained, selective, alternating, and divided. Each of these are described below.  

Types of Attention  Definition  Example 
Focused  Ability to focus on something for any period of time and allows us to quickly detect relevant stimuli 
  • Paying attention to signs on the road while driving 
  • Picking up something that fell off your desk 
Sustained  Ability to focus on something over a long period of time 
  • Paying attention in class 
  • Keeping your eye on the road while driving  
Selective  Directing our awareness on a task while all other information in the environment is ignored 
  • Attending a conversion at a party 
  • Studying in a busy environment 
Alternating  Moving between two or more tasks that require different mental capabilities 

  • Requires mental flexibility 
  • Reading a recipe then performing the physical task of the recipe 
Divided  When a person must divide their focus on two or more things 
  • Listening to a podcast while running 
  • Talking on the phone while driving 



Individuals with impairment or deficits in attention can experience the following symptoms: 

  • Difficulty focusing  
  • Difficulty multitasking  
  • Difficulty following through or completing tasks  
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Absent-mindedness 
  • Short attention span  

However, there are general strategies that individuals with impaired attention can utilize. These include: 

Deficit  Strategies 
Impaired focused attention 
  • Engage in mindfulness or meditation  
Impaired sustained attention 
  • Take short movement breaks 
  • Remove distractions 
  • Practice attentive listening, i.e., listening a friend talk 
  • Perform concentration exercises, i.e., sitting still on a chair for 15 minutes 
Impaired selective attention 
  • Avoid distracted environments 
  • Wearing earplugs during task 
Impaired alternating attention 
  • Assess the mental capability or effort required of task  
  • For example, one task being mental (listening to radio) while the other task requires more physical skills (cleaning room) 
Impaired divided attention 
  • Same strategies as above 
  • Focus on only two tasks at a time 
  • Limiting additional distractions such as noisy environment or visual distractions 
  • If possible, give yourself a time limit to fully focus on a task before switching tasks 



Hahn, B., Wolkenberg, F. A., Ross, T. J., Myers, C. S., Heishman, S. J., Stein, D. J., Kurup, P. K., & Stein,  

  1. A. (2008). Divided versus selective attention: evidence for common processing mechanisms.Brain research,1215, 137–146. 

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