Attention is a cognitive process that allows us to focus selectively on one (or several) stimulus in the environment without taking into account the rest.

As John Ratey (2001), psychologist and professor at Harvard University, states, “attention is more than simply noticing incoming stimuli. It involves a number of processes, including filtering perceptions, balancing multiple perceptions, and attaching emotional meaning to these perceptions.

In this article we will examine what the different types of care are and how they affect the way we behave.

The different types of care

In the article “Attention control in sport: approaches to attention” we look at why attention regulation is important both in sport and in different areas of our lives. For example, having a good capacity for concentration helps us to be more effective when studying or working , as it increases our capacity to use memory, our effectiveness in decision-making, our precision and our agility.

However, beyond knowing the importance of attention management, it is convenient to know the different types of attention that exist, because in several aspects they behave differently and also affect us in a varied way. The same person may be skilled in controlling one type of attention, and significantly less skilled in managing another . However, in general it is rare to be very good in one of these areas and very bad in others: all types of attention tend to be close to average, as is the case with all psychological characteristics.

So, let’s see what these varieties of attention are, summarized and classified based on the most important criteria.

According to its width and direction

In the world of sports it is common to hear about care approaches, which can also be applied to different tasks in life. There are four approaches to attention, which take into account the direction (external or internal) and the breadth of the direction (narrow or broad).

In terms of directing attention, external attention refers to when an individual focuses on issues that are alien to him or her, to what is happening around him or her. On the other hand, internal attention refers to when a person pays attention to his internal events , to what occurs within him.

Regarding the amplitude of attention, wide attention is related to a greater number of stimuli , while reduced attention will allow for greater concentration.The direction and range of attention are combined to create different types of attention, which are as follows.

1. External-reduced care

Attention is focused on a small number of stimuli outside the person, and is related to concentration. For example, when an individual intends to throw a dart and focuses all his attention on the center of the target.

2. External care-broad

This type of attention is focused on a wide range of stimuli that are foreign to the person . For example, when a footballer initiates a counterattack, he raises his head and observes the position of his teammates in order to make an effective pass.

It is important to know the difference between the two types of external attention in order to maximize sports performance, because if an athlete is not aware of this difference and initiates a counterattack by focusing on the ball and dribbling (external-reduced attention), he will not know who to pass the ball to and will therefore lose a valuable opportunity to find the opponent’s goal.

3. Internal-reduced care

It is characterised by the fact that attention is focused on a reduced number of stimuli or responses that occur in a person’s body . For example, when a soccer player is learning to make petroleum jelly and must focus on the movements of his own foot and not on whether the jelly goes into the goal.

4. Internal-overall care

This type of attention refers to a person focusing on a wide range of stimuli or responses that occur within his or her body. For example, when someone has to fill out an emotional journal and analyze what happened to him/her during that day and what feelings he/she experienced.

According to the individual’s attitude

Taking into account the individual’s attitude, attention can be classified in two ways.

5. Voluntary care

It occurs when the individual makes an active and conscious effort to direct attention, that is, it is the ability to concentrate on a stimulus voluntarily .

6. Involuntary care

In this type of attention the person does not make a conscious and active effort, but it is the internal and external stimulus that directs the attention. For example, the noise of a firecracker or a toothache.

According to motor and physiological manifestations

If we take into account the motor and physiological manifestations, attention can be divided into

7. Open attention

The focus of attention and the recipients of interest have their orientation in the source of attention . For example, when someone is talking to us and we are facing them, we pay attention to both their verbal and non-verbal language.

8. Covert care

In this type of attention the attention focus and the sensory receptors are dissociated . For example, when we seem to be paying attention to the television and we are actually listening to our partner talk on the phone.

According to sensory mode

Taking into account the sensory mode. The attention can be of two types.

9. Visual attention

It refers to the spatial arrangement. This phenomenon allows the detection of stimuli in a complex visual context.

10. Auditory attention

Although we cannot move our ears as well as our eyes to pick up different auditory stimuli, we can choose what we hear , that is, we can focus our attention on one auditory stimulus or another.

Other care

In addition to the above classifications, there are also other types of care. These are explained below.

11. Selective care

It is also called focused care. It is the ability to select and focus determined attention on a particular stimulus or task . There are different theories that deal with this concept. In the article “Selective attention: definition and theories” you can learn more about this subject.

12. Divided attention

It is the capacity to attend and process two or more demands or stimuli simultaneously. It is also known as multitasking. For example, cooking and listening to music at the same time.

13. Alternating care

It is the ability to shift the focus of attention from one stimulus to another. For example, reading a recipe and preparing food.

14. Sustained attention

It refers to when we have to use care over a long period of time. For example, when playing a video game.

15. Concentration

Concentration is reduced external attention; it is the ability of a person to focus his or her attention in a sustained and constant manner. Its applications are many.

  • You can read about them in the article “The importance of concentration and focus in sport”

Bibliographic references:

  • Fuentes, L. and García-Sevilla, J. (2008). Manual of psychology of care: a neuroscientific perspective . Madrid: Síntesis.
  • Gorfein, D. S., and McLeod, C. M. (2007). Inhibition in cognition . American Psychological Association.
  • Posner, M. (2011). Cognitive Neuroscience of Attention .2nd ed.
  • Styles, E. A. (2010). Psychology of attention . Madrid: Centro de estudios Ramón Areces.