It refers to focusing and processing information from our surroundings. While it involves our tending to facets of our environment, the nature of our attention can vary from event to event. There are four main types of attention that we use in our daily lives:

  • Selective attention
  • Divided attention
  • Sustained attention
  • Executive attention

Selective attention

Have you ever been at a loud concert or a busy restaurant, and you are trying to listen to the person you are with? While it can be hard to hear every word, you can usually pick up most of the conversation if you’re trying hard enough. This is because you are choosing to focus on this one person’s voice, as opposed to say, the people speaking around you. Selective attention takes place when we successfully block out certain features of our environment and focus on one particular feature, like the conversation you are having with your friend.

Divided attention

Do you ever do two things at once? If you’re like most people, you do that a lot. Maybe you talk to a friend on the phone while you’re straightening up the house. When we are paying attention to two things at once, we are using divided attention.

Sustained attention

Are you someone who can work at one task for a long time? If you are, you are good at using sustained attention. This happens when we can concentrate on a specified task, event, or feature in our environment for a prolonged period of time. Think about people you have watched who spend a lot of time working on a project, like painting or even listening intently to another person share their story.

Executive attention

Do you feel you are able to focus intently enough to create goals and monitor your progress? If you are inclined to do these things, you are displaying executive attention. Executive attention is particularly good at blocking out unimportant features of the environment and attending to what really matters. It is the attention we use when we are making steps toward a particular end.