The ability to pay attention this is one of the skills that is most often impaired with the presence of psychopathology. Below, we’ll take a look at the different gaps that attention can experience depending on some of the most common psychological disorders.
Attention and its typologies
Although many authors have proposed different definitions of the concept of attention, one of the recent contributions (Rios, 2007) asserts that attention is a neurocognitive state of preparation, which precedes perceptual capacity and action., And which is formed from a network of connections which are responsible for guidance, alert and executive control functions.
More specifically, care consists of the following elements: wakefulness, focal attention, sustained attention, selective attention alternating attention (change in attentional focus depending on the information to be processed at a given time) and divided attention (ability to attend to two types of stimulation simultaneously).
Attention disorders and psychopathologies
In an attempt to describe the relationship between an impaired attention span and its presence in certain psychopathologies, Figueres et al. (1996) differentiated in their classification between aprosexia, hypoprosexy, pseudoprosexy, paraprosexia and hyperprosexia.
This taxonomy sorts the categories understand attention as a one-dimensional variable in which the extremes (aprosexia and hyperprosexia) correspond respectively to a total absence and to an increased capacity to focus attention and concentration. So, more precisely, each of them is defined as follows:
The total lack of attention is usually observed associated with symptoms of intense agitation or stupor, A severe alteration in the level of consciousness in which vigilance is greatly compromised. This state can be caused by organic (diffuse dysfunction of the brain, for example) or psychiatric (melancholic, catatonic and hysterical states) factors.
These are states of decreased attention span which are less intense than aprosexia and which are divided into subgroups:
a) distractibility: Present in ADHD or the twilight state, a constipation disorder in the field of consciousness.
b) Attentive emotional lability linked to an anxious symptomatology.
vs) Inhibition of attention attributed to depressive and schizophrenic states.
re) negligence, An inability to orient oneself after a focal type run.
e) Attention fatigue, A condition characterized by attention depletion (typical of dementia and the presence of tumors) and listlessness associated with certain personality disorders.
They can be superficially confused with aprosexies because apparently attention span it seems absent from the patient’s claim, Although it is really preserved. It is common in states of hysteria or Ganser’s syndrome (a type of dissociative disorder) in an attempt to draw attention to loved ones and circles close to the individual.
It is defined as a changed direction of attentional concentration, Linked to hypochondriac behaviors.
consist of an increased and transient state of attention present in moments of altered consciousness such as hyperlucency or extreme alertness.
Attention as a cognitive process
Derived from scientific research at the end of the last century, Reed (1988) has linked certain psychopathologies to the aspect of attention which, in each case, is most altered. Thus, the following attentional skills are distinguished.
1. Care as concentration or sustained attention
It is defined as the maintenance of attention for an extended period of time. This ability is related to the task of fixing attention and its most frequent alteration occurs in cases of extreme fatigue, sleep disturbances or malnutrition..
In this category there may be phenomena such as mental absence (exclusion of external information which is generally accessible, where attention is reduced by distracting stimuli or not closely related to the thought itself in question and there there is also an increase in the threshold required to allow attentional targeting) or time lag (a lack of event logging when performing an automatic cognitive processing task, such as when driving a vehicle on a commute regular).
2. Attention as selection
It consists of the ability to discriminate relevant information inhibiting other non-major stimulus elements. In other words, the ability to separate the determinants of the stimulus for the task in question from those secondary or irrelevant.
Due to the limited nature of attention span, a common occurrence in this type of skill is “tuning in,” which involves following one source of information when different others compete for that attention.
The modification of this function is also known as “distractibility”. and can appear in a wide variety of psychopathological disorders such as anxiety, manic episodes or twilight images (of symptoms similar to epilepsy).
3. Attention as activation or excitation
It is the state of general activation of the organism which makes it possible to be on alert and it is linked to attentional focusing as much in degree as in intensity. this ability is compromised in a state of high stress or anxiety, Where more attention is paid to threatening stimuli. These deviations are known as the phenomenon of “tunnel vision”.
4. Attention as surveillance
It is defined as the state of hypersensitivity or high receptivity to the environment, as well as a type of attentional dedication to long-term tasks in which the subject must sense a low-frequency stimulus. In this type of capacity commission errors are particularly important (Detection of a stimulus when not present) and omission (inadequate handling of not detecting information present).
This ability is mainly impaired in schizophrenic subjects, in individuals with high scores on the anxiety trait such as GAD, or generalized anxiety disorder. Among its most frequent manifestations, we can distinguish general hypervigilance (dealing with any stimulus unrelated to the task), specific hypervigilance (paying selective attention to stimuli linked to threatening information), enlargement attention (previously before detecting a stressful stimulation or narrowing of attention (in the processing of a threatening stimulus, such as in paranoid subjects).
5. Attention as expectation
The ability to anticipate is a characteristic based on previous experience which allows the subject to be more efficient in performing a specific task. This ability is altered, for example, in the reaction time of schizophrenic individuals.
According to the research of Shakow (1962), the latter have a “segmental set” which prevents them from benefiting from preparatory time intervals in tasks measuring reaction time. On the other hand, the subjects without psychopathology are characterized by the possession of a “general whole”, which makes it possible to perceive the situation to be stimulated globally and allows the individual to react without taking into account the irrelevant elements of the activity.
How the modification of attention span can be verified is present in high comorbidity with anxious or schizophrenic psychopathology. Cognitive improvement in this skill can become a component important intervention in this type of clinical disorder.
- Garcia, J. (1997). Psychology of attention. Madrid: Synthesis.
- Rius, M., Muñoz, J. and Paül, N. (2007). Attention disorders after traumatic brain injuries: assessment and rehabilitation. Journal of Neurology, 44, 291-297.