Selective attention is the ability to focus on specific objects and ignore others (p.134). It’s a skill that enables us to “select” what we pay attention to. Selective attention is one of the most important cognitive abilities of a successful student.
Here’s an example of selective attention in a classroom setting.
Michelle is sitting in perception class taught by professor Berg. The class is in the big lecture hall with over 100 students. Professor Berg has trouble gaining control over the class because it’s so big and the students were not interested in his lecture today. Professor Berg begins his lecture on Visual Attention and Michelle begins to think about what she is going to do after class. However, she catches herself drifting. Michelle knows she needs a good grade in perception and to do so she has to focus on the lecture.
Michelle engages her selective attention and blocks out the noise in the lecture hall. The girls talking, the boys whispering, the pencils falling, the student coughing, and incoming text messages are some of the distractions that Michelle chooses not to attend to with her focus. Michelle’s prefrontal cortex kicked into gear. This is the area of the brain that decides what will receive attention, which cognitive resources will be used to analyze the incoming information, and which distractions will be ignored.
Fortunately, Michelle’s selective attention skills are strong and she is able to focus on Professor Berg’s lecture, ignore the distractions around her, and process the incoming information. However, not all students are as lucky as Michelle and find it difficult to block out distractions. Conditions like ADD or ADHD can make it challenging for students to stay focused and block out distractions.
Selective attention is such an important aspect to learning. As you read this post or the textbook, chances are you engaging your selective attention.
Here’s a youtube video where you can test your selective attention: