Background Information On Attention and Memory
Attention and Memory
"The single most important aspect of the memory system for improving memory performance is the process of attention. The likelihood that information in working memory will be absorbed or lead certain traces to emerge from long-term memory depends on how intensely we pay attention to the information in working memory" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 9).
"A low intensity of attention limits the clarity of information that may be absorbed in long-term memory or that may stimulate the emergence of a desired memory from long-term memory. When better attention is paid to working memory, the information is clearer and facilitates absorption or emergence. More and clearer details will be registered in long-term memory, and the likelihood of remembering them later will increase. Thus, by learning to raise the level of attention, we can enhance the quality of memory performance" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 9).
"When we pay attention to the contents held in working memory, the level of intensity is not the only aspect that varies. Our attention also varies in relation to different details of the ideas, images, and perceptions being held in working memory. In other words, we pay more attention to some details than to others. Naturally, those details paid the most attention are more likely to be registered than those we ignore. ... we distribute our attention at will over the contents of working memory. Those details in working memory that we pay more attention to are more likely to be registered in, and to later emerge from, long-term memory" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 10).
"The level and the distribution of attention combine to produce the overall amount of attention paid to each detail of a thought in working memory. ... The distinction between the level and distribution of attention is important to memory because many of the manipulations that you can do to increase the level have no effect on the distribution of attention. Conversely, many of the manipulations that alter the distribution of attention (by shifting your attention on to certain details in working memory) often have no effect on the overall level of intensity" (Herrmann, Raybeck and Gutman, 1993, p. 10-11).
The relationship between attention and memory is illustrated in the information processing model shown below.
Human Memory System
According to Herrman, Raybeck and Gutman (1993, p. 8), the human memory system is composed of four functional components: senses, working memory, long-term memory, and central processor. Information is transmitted between working memory and the senses and between working memory and the central processor. Through absorption, information moves from working memory to long-term memory, where registration of the information occurs. The process of emergence involves remembering information in long-term memory and moving it into working memory.
Components of Attending
There are four components to paying attention, each of which influences one's ability to sustain attention (Coleman, 1993, p. 1-29).
Attention Deficit Disorder
Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is a suite of behavioral traits observed in varying degrees in both children and adults: short attention span, difficulty concentrating, distractibility, and difficulty in controlling impulses (Coleman, 1993, p. 1-29). Ancillary traits include difficulty following directions or obeying rules, difficulty with language processing, poor organizational skills, poor social skills, low self-esteem, and poor perceptual motor skills. The characteristics of ADD are most apparent in "unstructured, noisy or highly stimulating situations" (Coleman, 1993, p. 4).
Primary ADD is a hereditary condition. Secondary ADD may arise from a variety of causes, including mood disorders, primary neurologic disorders, some chromosomal disorders, prenatal injury, postnatal injuries or illnesses, premature birth, or exposure to excessive levels of radiation.
Some professionals consider ADD a learning disability. However, students without learning disabilities or ADD may experience difficulty attending.
Attention Deficit Disorder Look-Alikes
Conditions and situations other than ADD may affect the ability of a student to attend (Coleman, 1993, p. 1-29).