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What Factors Affect Human Attention?

By Felicia Dye
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Human attention can be affected by the choices that a person makes, such as how much she chooses to sleep or what she chooses to eat. The number and types of tasks that a person attempts to engage in at a given moment can also affect her attention. Substances such as alcohol and drugs can negatively impact a person's attention span and ability to concentrate. Sometimes, however, problems with attention stem from a disorder.

Rest, or the lack of it, can affect human attention. When people are tired, it can be much more difficult for them to concentrate. Parents tend to think that children need a certain amount of sleep to be at their best. While this is true, the same applies to adults. At any age, cognitive abilities tend to be sharpest when individuals have had an adequate amount of rest.

An individual's diet can also affect his attention span and ability to concentrate. This is one of the reasons why breakfast is encouraged. As it is the first meal of the day and people generally have a number of tasks ahead of them that require their attention, eating breakfast is important. With regard to attention, it is is recommended that a person include some type of lean protein among her breakfast selections.

Multitasking is often considered a desirable trait, but it is one that can negatively affect human attention. When a person attempts to engage in more than one task, she must try to divide her attention between them. Depending on the tasks at hand, a person may be able to accomplish this without a problem. There are many instances, however, when a person simply does not have an adequate supply of attention to divide among all of the tasks she attempts, resulting in a problem. A prime example is when a mother attempting to interact with her children while driving and talking on a cellphone has an accident.

Alcohol, legal drugs, and illegal drugs can have a negative effect on human attention too. The manner and degree of the impact will depend on the type and amount of substances consumed. Some may dull a person's attention or shorten an individual's ability to concentrate. If use of substances evolves into addiction, cravings may have a severe impact on a person’s ability to concentrate on tasks other than obtaining the addictive substance.

Human attention can also be affected by disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Many individuals suffer from conditions such as this without realizing it. Additionally, it is common for medical professionals to have difficulty diagnosing these conditions or even to misdiagnose them. Symptoms may include the lack of ability to concentrate, being easily distracted, and having difficulty sitting still. Once such a condition is discovered, it may be managed with medication or with other sorts of therapy.

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Discussion Comments

By clintflint — On Jun 22, 2014

@umbra21 - There are a lot of factors affecting the human attention span, but it is definitely possible to increase it with practice.

The thing is, you can't try to force it because the human brain just doesn't work like that. You basically just have to concentrate on something, and when your mind starts to wander and you catch it, gently keep bringing it back to whatever it is that you want to think about. Eventually you'll just get better and better at concentrating well.

By umbra21 — On Jun 22, 2014

@Iluviaporos - You might want to try training your mind to be a little bit more focused. You might be able to help the condition a little bit through meditation and other mindfulness techniques.

I have to be able to focus my mind or I can't sleep properly. I tend to start getting very tense if my mind is churning and I have to focus on a single word or image to try and calm myself down. That might be more to do with anxiety than attention though.

But I've found that practicing mindfulness has definitely improved my attention in general.

By lluviaporos — On Jun 21, 2014

Since I've been on medication I've found that my attention span is much more limited than it used to be. It doesn't seem to bother me much if I'm actually working on a task that is right in front of me, but if I'm trying to think about something in the abstract, my mind will flick around to a lot of different topics in a short amount of time.

It's kind of annoying, but in a way I guess it's a good thing, because I'm getting an idea of how it feels to have ADHD or other kinds of attention disorders. I'm always happy to expand my understanding of other people. I've got to admit that I hope, once I'm off my medication, I will go back to the way I was.

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