What is involuntary attention?

Every minute, if a person is not sleeping, but awake, his interest is focused on something or someone. This is how an elementary kind of attention works, namely involuntary attention. Such mental activity is inherent in both very young children and adults. However, even animals are not deprived of this kind of attention.

Definition of involuntary attention

First, let’s consider the question — what is attention in general, and how it works. Attention accompanies any of our actions. Without such a property of the psyche, humanity could not survive in a complex world.

In psychology, it is generally accepted that attention is a state in which there is a concentration of concentration (conscious or unconscious) on the same information coming through the senses. Please note that other information is ignored.

This function can have both its parameters and its own features. It is they who give a vivid description of the possibilities and abilities of the human personality. Let’s consider them in more detail.

  • Concentration determines the strength of concentration on an object. The circle of objects for strong enthusiasm is greatly reduced, and an in-depth study of the object in question takes place.
  • The volume may include such a number of objects that an individual is able to simultaneously perceive. It depends on the individual capabilities of a person, namely on professional skills, on the amount of short-term memory, on life experience, etc.
  • Distribution gives a person the opportunity to focus his attention on several objects at once. Distributive opportunity is associated mainly with work or educational activities. During the distribution of interest in the department of optimal excitability of the cerebral cortex, inhibition occurs in a partial way, due to which these areas are able to control the simultaneous performance of several functions at once. For example, a person can perform such actions: drink coffee, read and write information. The more developed the distributive function of a person, the easier it is for him to perform various activities at the same time.
  • Stability controls the concentration of attention for a certain time on any object or on its separate part. The stability of attention directly depends on the variety of actions performed or impressions from the resulting image.
  • The opposite property of resilience is distractibility. It is usually expressed as a wavering or weakening of concentration when a person looks at an object. It must be remembered that fluctuations in enthusiasm occur even during hard work. And if such fluctuations have short intervals, then they do not affect the stability of interest.
  • Switching interest consists in its transfer from one object to another. If the nature of the activity changes dramatically and new tasks are set, then interest is switched from one object to another. In this case, a person uses volitional efforts.

You need to know the following.

  • Attention is also directly related to emotions. In addition, it depends on the changes that occur with the human body, namely physiological conditions (respiratory, motor and vascular reactions). The concentration of interest is provided by all the motor functions of the human body.
  • The attention of a person is directed to the content of any image. It exercises control over this figurative content and forms the mental actions of the individual.
  • Attention in some cases may be limited. This happens when information from different stimuli creates common interference and the limit of processing capabilities for the brain sets in. For example, when a person watches an interesting movie on TV, and there is a kettle on the gas stove. Often it boils away, since the human brain activity is aimed at reviewing the bright pictures that occur on the screen.

Attention has certain forms and is diverse. It is divided into these types.

  • Arbitrary. This function is manifested when a person makes some effort to turn his mental activity on something or someone. This focus is needed in order to acquire new knowledge or information. This function is developed in a person over the years and is not given to him at birth. The development of intelligence directly depends on its formation. The main function of such attention is the active regulation of the course of mental processes. For example, it is thanks to the work of voluntary attention that a person can retrieve the necessary information from memory.
  • Involuntary attention is very different from voluntary attention, as it is usually caused by external causes. At the same time, a person does not make any special efforts and does not set any goals in order to turn his gaze to the image that has arisen. Involuntary interest can turn on and function without any effort on the part of human consciousness. It can also quickly switch from object to object. The irritants for causing involuntary interest are the various needs of the individual, which are very significant for him. Also, involuntary attention strongly depends on the general direction of conscious activity and the nature of the person. It can arise even when conscious intentions and volitional efforts on the part of a person’s consciousness do not manifest themselves in any way. Thanks to the factor under consideration, an individual can quickly orient himself in constantly changing environmental conditions. It is because of the inclusion of involuntary attention that the objects that are most important at the moment are highlighted.
  • There is also post-voluntary attentionwhich includes part of both voluntary and involuntary attention.

What is characterized?

Involuntary attention can be called emotional and passively significant. A person focuses his attention on information or on an object only because at the given moment these factors are the most significant for him. At the moment of inertia, dependence on the object of interest arises. At the same time, a person does not make special efforts to excite his mental activity. If attention is caused by a surge of emotions, then the connection between the object of attention and interests, needs or emotions becomes the most stable. And even in this case, there is no specially directed concentration on the object.

Any stimulus that has a certain force of action attracts interest in one way or another. Involuntary attention occurs due to a surge of intellectual, aesthetic or moral feelings. And this process is not amenable to any regulation. All this happens because a person, when the factor under consideration arises, experiences either admiration, or disappointment, or pain, or delight, etc. for quite a long time.

Prolonged and involuntary attention to some things or information is caused by a person’s sustained interest. And this is the main reason for the emergence of involuntary attention.

Conditions of occurrence

A person cannot live without learning something new and entertaining. Interest helps people to know the world. Without this factor, it is impossible to remember the significant details that occur around any of us. In addition, protective and orienting reflexes make our consciousness react with lightning speed to incomprehensible sounds or bright light. Sometimes such manifestations save a person’s life in an extreme situation. For example, when a car moves towards it with its headlights on and a horn honking. In addition, an instant reaction to newly arisen circumstances will force any of us to make the right decision when problems arise from the outside world. Thanks to the attention in question, we can isolate the threat that has arisen from the general picture and build our behavior in such a way as to remain completely safe.

The mechanism of involuntary attention was formed along with the evolutionary development of mankind. Our ancestors had to get food not in supermarkets, but in the wild, where they constantly encountered predators. Therefore, the work of the above mechanism for every reasonable person occurs automatically and works independently of consciousness. Reactions of such a plan can occur when:

  • the movement of any object (any movement can be potentially dangerous);
  • when a new and inexplicable phenomenon appears (what is unknown can be dangerous);
  • with very loud or strong impact (a sudden sound or bright light may indicate danger).

Any activity of a person should be of interest. Activity gives any of us the opportunity to fully live and create. Interest just plays the role of the locomotive that moves our life forward. Consider the conditions under which involuntary attention occurs.

  • If any sound is heard. Any rise or fall in tone can also attract people’s attention.
  • Pause. When it occurs, a person begins to show interest. For example, if the music played loudly and suddenly died down, a person is looking for the causes of this problem, and this is how his immediate interest is manifested.
  • Vibrant colors and light. If the lamp turns on unexpectedly, then the person involuntarily shows curiosity about this event. Bright shades of wild flowers can cause delight and interest on the part of the individual.
  • Any movement that begins to take place around us also arouses interest. A sudden gust of wind can stir up hair or clothes. This movement of nature attracts involuntary attention.
  • Emotional outburst. At the sight of any bright event, a person’s interest is necessarily activated. For example, if he sees an unpleasant incident, then this event will evoke emotions and focus on the problem.
  • Humor can also be interesting. We always look with curiosity at various pictures that attract with their unobtrusive wit.


Involuntary attention has a variety of forms. Let’s consider this question in more detail.

  • Involuntary. It manifests itself when a person simply looks at objects during some kind of rest. Here everything depends on individual perception, since attention in this case is attracted by objects that are most significant for a particular individual. For example, someone loves nature. Being in a relaxed state, he pays attention to the rustle of leaves and the vibrations of tree trunks.
  • Forced. Designed for contrasts: objects move quickly or sharply, attract the eye with their unusualness and novelty, or have a physiological significance. It is this kind of involuntary attention that is based on human instincts. For example, a guy sees a beautiful girl, and this causes genuine interest.
  • Habitual. Based on everyday activities and algorithms. Usually this direction is associated with professional or educational activities of a person. It is considered the highest form of involuntary attention, as it has all the characteristics of voluntary attention.

An example in this case would be a driver who is driving a car and his attention is focused on the road.

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