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What is attention?

Say when you are sitting in class or in a meeting and your mind starts to wander – you’re not paying attention. This is sense that we mean when we say we study attention – to pay attention means to concentrate on something. With my colleagues I study what it means to concentrate, and why some things are hard to concentrate on while others are easy. We also research why some children find it easier to concentrate than others.

Why are some things easier to pay attention to than others?

There’s no doubt that some things are easier to pay attention to than others. As you will know if you have ever tried to have a conversation with the TV on the background, for example, some things, particularly things with lots of movement in them, are so attention-grabbing that it’s hard not to pay attention to them. Whereas if you want to read a book in a noisy environment where lots of people are moving, this requires you to make an effort to concentrate and to block out distractions. This second type of concentration is called effortful concentration, or attentional control - this is the focus of our research at CALM.

Why is concentration important?

Research suggests that differences emerge between different children in their concentration abilities, and that these differences emerge early in development – during the first year of life. Research also suggests that children who are better able to concentrate perform better at learning across a range of different tasks – from language acquisition through to learning different subjects in school, in academic settings.

What can I do to improve my child’s concentration abilities?

Good question! And one we’re certainly not sure that we know the answer to yet. At the CBU we do a lot of research into the effect of concentration training exercises – but it’s still early days for this research and there isn't anything on the market at the moment that we would recommend. In the meantime, there is research suggesting a number of other ways that you might try to improve your child’s concentration abilities. For example, removing other distractions from the room can make it easier for your child to concentrate. There is also research suggesting that participating in shared activities with your child (e.g. sitting and doing a puzzle together with them) can help to train your child to concentrate better.

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