Psychology and Psychiatry

Arbitrary attention

Arbitrary attention is one of the types of attention of a person, manifested by a free focus when using volitional efforts that direct him to the necessary, obligatory activity or object, its individual qualities or manifestations that do not cause natural interest. Arbitrary attention of a person always goes as opposed to involuntary and is considered a higher form of development of mental functions based on the performance of conscious activity. It is always determined not by interest, but by a deliberately set task, in which it is directed to objects marked in advance or their characteristics. It is such a conscious and anticipating immediate effective activity, the setting of the task and the limitation of perception that distinguishes voluntary attention from other types.

Arbitrary attention is a mental function that allows you to listen to not very interesting reports; drive a car without being distracted; consider certain objects in a clearly defined sequence, rather than in a chaotic order, and many other operations. At the household level, it can manifest itself when reading a note or a book, meaning is attached to the content, and the font or handwriting usually eludes evaluation and perception in general. If, on the other hand, the task of estimating calligraphy, font, letter size or spelling correctness (for training or publishing) is intentionally set, but due to voluntary attention, additional parameters will be assessed in advance.

Keen voluntary attention at almost the same level, regardless of external factors. The focus of this type of attention is due solely to volitional efforts; therefore, louder sounds, bright visual images or your own distracting thoughts only slightly correct the success of the activity. In principle, the very feature of an arbitrary direction allows you to minimize the number of distractions in advance, or choose another convenient time for the necessary concentration.

If we take into account the conditions of occurrence, then the important point is its lifetime formation and the possibility of development when using tools of historical development, and not innate parameters. The emergence of this type of attention due to certain stages of personal development, including the physiological processes of activation of brain structures and psychological causes.

The causes of voluntary attention

The emergence of voluntary attention due to relationships arising from the imposition of past experience and the task, due to its formulation. After this function has been used several times in the subsequent verbal formulation of the task, attention is switched arbitrarily. This is like practicing a habit or developing a conditioned reflex. For example, a child may be asked to look around, crossing the street, and when he has praise for it or he gets scared several times, almost getting hit by a car, a conscious reaction is fixed on the words used earlier to pay attention to the road.

The importance of the task - the higher the significance of the task, especially in the context of vitality or survival, the easier the attention can be arbitrarily controlled. These are natural, innate factors that allow you to direct your attention arbitrarily, correlating it with necessity, and the second point is internal interest. It is important to note the difference in the influence of interest on the occurrence of arbitrariness or its absence in the process of attention - in the case of involuntary interest is the leading motive, i.e. where brighter, better, more exciting at the moment, attention is directed there. In the case of voluntary attention, interest plays a role only when it turns on a long-term perspective and reflects the deep, long-term value and life attitudes of the individual. It is interest to the perspective that allows focusing on the current moment, while its emotional fullness remains in the background, which ultimately makes it possible to engage in unpleasant or boring things for the sake of further progress.

The historical reason for the emergence of directed attention is considered to be the evolutionary appearance of awareness in the direction of work, i.e. those moments of it, the fulfillment of which is not regulated instinctively or desires (animals do not possess). So the development of voluntary attention was carried out for the sake of acquiring the possibility of achieving promising and significant goals, where there was a need to perform not only the desired actions, but also those required by the situation.

Features of voluntary attention

The peculiarity of voluntary attention is the activity of the individual in achieving the goals, without taking into account the preferences for the moment. This ability is formed gradually, which is characterized by a period of unpleasant sensations associated with internal tension of willpower, but as this skill is acquired, tension goes away, and discomfort from the need to maintain concentration by all means decreases significantly.

This quality can manifest itself not only independently, but also influence other processes. Thanks to the active use and ability to determine the direction of his attention, a person also adjusts his memory, choosing the necessary moments, corrects the pace of various processes, adjusting them adequately to the situation, and also fully regulates the activity for the final result.

On the physiological side, this process is due to the involvement of the frontal lobes of the cortex of the hemispheres, which are responsible for the correction, as well as programming of the future activity of the individual. The peculiarity of the activation of these areas is that the stimulus (a signal capable of changing activity) comes from the second signal system. This means that thought becomes a priority signal in comparison with the environment, which means that the stimuli emanating from the inner self have an advantage in guiding the activity and focus of attention. This eliminates complete brain control over human behavior, since self-preservation instincts still occupy the most influential place among all the internal processes of adjustment actions.

Features of this higher mental function are due to mediation and awareness, which implies a certain development of the psyche by the time of establishing voluntary attention. It relies on minimal volitional efforts, the ability to perceive and self-awareness with the further coupling of the existing factors and the desired results. Arbitality arose in the course of evolution, as the ability to transform reality through its activities, therefore, like all acquired functions, it necessarily passes the accelerated stages of evolutionary appearance in every phenomenological history of the personality. Usually, the period of formation of the ability to consciously direct attention is formed from birth to six years, and then more and more honed thanks to the educational system and the efforts of the person himself. This is another key feature - the education system, the particular involvement of the child in the process and the influence of others. From these factors depends on the speed of formation of the skill and its level of development.

Formation of voluntary attention

Formation, like the development of voluntary attention, is outside the personality, therefore independent development of this mental function is impossible. Only thanks to the society, which constantly involves the individual in interaction, shows new types of activity and directs spontaneous attention, the emergence of a directional and controlled further process is possible. The social environment teaches the child how to the mechanisms of volitional adaptation, the use of which in the future will be necessary for self-correction of their attention.

The formation of arbitrariness occurs gradually with the assimilation of external attention-adjustment mechanisms. These may be pointing gestures of adults, and then, with the understanding of reversed speech, such adjustments may occur in verbal guide form. By the end of kindergarten, the speech of an adult is usually replaced by the child’s own speech, turned to himself or to nowhere. Such appeals are not corrective in nature and not an attempt to interact with others, but only the planning of their own activities, the direction for which are words. Gradually, this process goes into the inner world and collapses into subconscious sets of functions.

The direct formation of volitional control of attention is inextricably linked with the assimilation and acceptance of the norms of the social environment, the fulfillment of which requires the inclusion of this type of skill. Focusing on the need to perform (for example, assemble toys) before engaging in what is prioritizing the interests of the minute (the game) - the first formation of arbitrariness. At an early age, children find it rather difficult to apply unfamiliar skills, and prolonged concentration can cause rapid mental exhaustion. There is no need to scold the child for not fulfilling what he intended and distracted, it is better to give time and the opportunity to independently return to not very pleasant activities after some time or a short break.

The weakness of arbitrariness at a younger age requires not only additional stress from the child, but also the construction of the educational process so that involuntary attention is maximally used and only volitional is gradually connected. This is necessary both for better academic performance and for the organic formation of higher mental functions. The diffuse nature of the development of control functions will affect the success of acquiring voluntary attention, therefore, it is necessary to take into account moments of good performance and their reduction, as a variant of normative development.

The most optimal way to form arbitrariness is to master and learn a new activity. Applying such an approach, natural involuntary attention is initially involved, and then the interest or awareness of one's own further benefit encourages the child to make volitional efforts in mastering new skills. Then motivating factors of development can become competitive feelings or self-esteem, a sense of duty contributes well, but it is necessary to carefully form this motivation so that there is no huge sense of guilt in failure.

There are certain requirements for the tasks that adults place in front of the child, such as clarity of formulations. This concerns both the process of implementation with all its stages, and the final result or its variants should be obtained. General education of responsibility and observation can be maintained by using a constant interest in what is happening, for which a change of activity is recommended, as well as setting up feasible tasks that do not overload the nervous system, but give the feeling of overcoming a new barrier.