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Psychology of attention 

Psychology of attention
Chapter:
Psychology of attention
Author(s):

Elizabeth Coulthard

and Masud Husain

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199696758.003.0031
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date: 23 August 2019

Attention is generally taken to be the process by which people are able to concentrate on certain information or processes, while ignoring other events. It appears to be a fundamental attribute of human brain processing, although difficult to pin down in terms of mechanism. Psychologists have attempted to fractionate attention in many different ways, using ingenious behavioural paradigms. In this section we, too, will consider different aspects of attention: selective, phasic and sustained, divided and executive control of attention. However, it would be fair to say that all these aspects of attention do not normally operate in isolation. Instead they interact, and deficiencies in one aspect of attention, for example, in a patient population, often to do not occur in isolation. Functional imaging and lesion studies of attention have proliferated in recent years, attempting to place a neurobiological framework to these varied processes. In general, these studies also tend to confirm the view that attention is likely an emergent property of widespread brain networks, with a special emphasis on frontal and parietal regions of the human brain (Fig. 2.5.2.1). In this discussion we illustrate several aspects of attention with examples particularly from literature on visual attention, which is the most widely studied area, but it should be appreciated that many of the concepts discussed here extend to other domains. In fact, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that several aspects of attention operate at a supra- or cross-modal level allowing integration of information from different sources. Recent studies suggest there are two fronto-parietal networks: (Fig. 2.5.2.1) a dorsal parieto-frontal network involving the superior parietal lobe (SPL) and dorsal frontal regions such as the frontal eye field (FEF); and a ventral network involving the inferior parietal lobe (IPL), temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). In addition, dorsomedial frontal areas, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and pre-supplementary area (pre-SMA) may play a key role in flexible control of attention for strategic behaviour.

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