Attention: the selective processing of information. (Carrasco) The ability to concentrate on a particular "stimulus," event, or thought while excluding competing ones. (Koch, 330)

Selective narrowing or focusing of "awareness" to part of the "sensory" "environment" or to a class of stimuli. (Kolb, 530) We tend to pay attention to what we have been taught to value and we tend to be astonishingly blind to change until something disrupts our "pattern" and makes us see what has been invisible before. (Davidson, 243) The often-used phrase ‘pay attention’ is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, your will fail. "Surprise" activates and orients your attention. (Kahneman, 23-24)


Attention Drivers: attention and memory are compatriots. When you’re not concentrating it’s hard to remember. Therefore measures used to improve attention will help memory function. (Levine, 118) The highly diverse operations of “System 2” have one feature in common: they require attention and are disrupted when attention is drawn away. (Kahneman, 22) Editor's note - includes drivers that enhance or inhibit attention.

Attention Blindness: basic feature of the human brain, that when we concentrate intensely on one task, (it) causes us to miss just about everything else. (Davidson, 1) Intense focusing on a task can make people effectively blind, even to stimuli that normally attract attention. (Kahneman, 23)

Attention Focus: preventing unwanted emotions by intentionally devoting your attention only to aspects of an event or encounter that you know will not provoke those emotions. For example, you disregard your uncle’s snide comments while forcing all your interest on your aunt’s conversation. (McCornack, 130)

Concentration: the act or process of concentrating, focusing the attention and mental energy on a single object to the exclusion of others. (NCIt) The continued focusing of mental powers and faculties on a particular object. (Oxford) Also referred to as ‘attention concentration.’

Emotionally Competent Stimulus (EMS): a ‘hook’ used to gain attention in a lecture or presentation, that triggers an "emotion." The hook has to be relevant. (Medina, 91) Emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are "recalled" with greater accuracy than neutral memories. (Medina, 80)

Inquiry Arousal: creating a problem situation which can be resolved only by knowledge-seeking behavior. (Tactics include) a warm-up activity that engages the learners in a "problem solving" situation, asking questions, creating "paradoxes," generating inquiry, and nurturing thinking challenges. (Keller, 2-3) Better than perceptual arousal at holding attention. (Marshall, 12/3/2011)

Interruptions: hinderance of the course, or continuance, of something. (Oxford) Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50 percent longer to accomplish a task. Not only that, he or she makes up to 50 percent more errors. (Medina, 87) Older brains have increasing trouble quieting down those numerous sources of interference and interruptions that contaminate our modern social environments. Scientists have recently shown that an individual’s growing problems in keeping those disruptions under control are a main source of failures in ‘real world’ remembering. (Merzenich, 116)

Noise: random patterns that might easily be mistaken for signals. (Silver, 416) Environmental factors that impede a message on the way to its destination. (McCornack, 9) Anything that distorts communication such that it is harder for people to understand each other. Can be physical, psychological, or "semantic." (Wood, 333) In the older brain, noise is growing from the inside, since the way the brain “encodes” what you hear becomes less precise - fuzzier - over time. That growing internal noise has exactly the same effect for degrading… ability to record sights and sounds as would turning on (a) hissing radio or dimming down the lights. (Merzenich, 115)

Meaning: significance, importance. (Oxford) The brain processes "meaning" before ‘details.‘ (It) pays attention to novel stimuli. The novel stimuli is usually being investigated as a potential threat, energy resource, sexual partner, or a pattern-matching. (Medina, BSP37) “Short-term memory” becomes “long-term” when genes are activated to create new synaptic connections. The process is designed so that only things that are “meaningful,”  “enjoyable,” or “important” are remembered. (Memory and Mind, 1)

Meaningful: full of meaning or expression; significant; amendable to interpretation. (Oxford)

Pattern: shared properties of entities of any kind, whether they are physical objects, social events, or verbal statements. A typical pattern contains information about things you have already encountered and information about things you may encounter in the future. (Goldberg, 125) (Humans) are terrific pattern-matchers and the brain is constantly looking for patterns and repetitions of patterns. And if it thinks it’s seen one it’ll pay attention to it. (Medina, BSP37) When presented with a stimulus, the brain pays a great deal of attention to the question: Have I seen it before? (Medina, 81) Brains are 'pattern machines.' Patterns from different senses are equivalent inside your brain. The same basic “algorithm” is at work throughout the “cerebral cortex.”  All our knowledge of the world is a model based on patterns. (Hawkins, 62-63) One of the main tenants of Jeff Hawkins’ book On Intelligence, is that if we can decipher the “neocortical”  “algorithm” and come up with a ‘science of patterns,’ we can apply it to any system that we want to make intelligent. Any object or event (in the external world) can be represented in the brain by a pattern of activity.  A pattern of activity, for example, could represent a visual object (like an apple) in much the same way that squiggles of ink (the letters ‘a’  ‘p’  ‘p’  ‘l’  ‘e’) on a paper can represent a visual object. (Ramachandran, 66)

Pattern Expression: brain process that helps guard frequently used memory patterns. Process in which brain areas, allocated to a particular motor, perceptual, and perhaps cognitive skill, expand and take over the adjacent part of the “cortical” space. (Goldberg, 136)

Pattern Recognition: the organism’s ability to recognize a new object or a new problem as a member of an already familiar class of objects or problems. (Goldberg, 85) The analysis of a critical number of sensory stimuli or facts (the pattern) by physiological processes such as vision, touch, or hearing (MeSH) The ability to ‘tackle’ a wide range of new situations, problems, and challenges, as if they were familiar ones. An ability that strengthens with age and experience. (Goldberg, 71) The pattern recognition capability of the “association cortex” and other ‘advanced’ regions of the cortex is called “emergent” because it truly emerges in the brain. Pattern recognition is not unique to humans. It is shared by every other species capable of learning. What sets us apart as humans is the powerful capacity for transmitting the repertoire of these patterns from individual to individual and from generation to generation through "culture." (Goldberg, 71)

Recognition: the act of seeing something as familiar. (NCIt)

Visual Pattern Recognition: mental process to visually perceive a critical number of facts (the pattern), such as characters, shapes, displays, or designs. (MeSH)

Pattern Recognition Devices: includes genetically-encoded devices. For example fear of snakes, fear of precipices, avoidance of fire, and feeling of joy at seeing the sun at dawn. These are also referred to as “phyletic memory.” Also includes primarily environmentally-learned cultural devices.  "Language" is the foremost cultural device for pattern recognition. (Goldberg, 87-96)

Attractors: templates that enable us to engage in pattern recognition. A concise constellation of “neurons” with strong connections among them. A very broad range of inputs will activate the attractor automatically and easily. (Goldberg, 20)

Patterning: the action of arranging things into a pattern; the fact of forming a pattern. (Oxford) The attempt to find structure in meaningless data. (Eagleman, 139) Also referred to as ‘patternicity.’

Perceptual Arousal: a type of curiosity. (Activated by) any sudden or unexpected change in the environment. (Tactics include) a change in voice level, light intensity, temperature, or a surprising piece of information. (Keller, 2) Good at getting attention, but not so good at holding attention. (Marshall, 12/3/2011)

Salience: prominence, conspicuousness, especially in consciousness. (Oxford) The degree to which particular sensory data or communication attracts attention. (McCornack, 79)

Sequence: the action or condition of following or succeeding; the following of one thing after another. A continuous series of things.(Oxford) Information inputs into the brain arrive in a sequence of “patterns.”  A set of patterns that generally accompany each other. Patterns (that) follow one another in time, even if it is not in a fixed order. (Hawkins, 127)

Sex: (humans) pay tons of attention to reproductive opportunity. The brain is the world’s chief survival organ. (Medina, BSP37) When presented with a stimulus, the brain pays a great deal of attention to the question: Can I mate with it? Will it mate with me? (Medina, 81)

Threats and Hunger: (humans) are extraordinarily interested in energy resources, and we are deeply interested in threat. If we think we see an energy resource—if we’re hungry—or we think we see a threat, even if we’re not threatened, the brain engages all kinds of systems and we pay deep attention to it. We’ll even orient our heads to move in the direction of a moving stimulus. A moving stimulus is a potential threat to us, so we pay a lot of attention to it. (Medina, BSP37) When presented with a stimulus, the brain pays a great deal of attention to the question: Can I eat it? Will it eat me? (Medina, 81)

Variation: difference, divergence, or discrepancy between two or more things. A different or distinct form or version of something; a variety, a variant. (Oxford) (Attention driving strategy may include) moving from a warm-up activity into a short lecture … followed by a demonstration and an exercise. Tactics include variations in presentation style, concrete analogies, human interest examples, and unexpected events. (Keller, 3)

Visual Attention Hierarchy: a hierarchy of visual information processing features. We pay attention to a moving rotating three-dimensional image more than just about anything else. The second thing, we are built to detect two-dimensional visual motion. Thirdly we pay attention to static three-dimensional objects, and fourthly we pay attention to static two-dimensional objects. A 'PowerPoint' (presentation) is a static two-dimensional object. (Medina, BSP37)

Attention Pathways: to learn how we perceive and recall complex experiences, we must determine how “neural networks” are organized and how attention and awareness shape and reconfigure activity in those networks. (Best of the Brain-Eric Kandel, 70)

Circadian Arousal System: the system that wants to keep you awake all the time. It’s at war all day and all night with the “homeostatic sleep drive.” If you 'deregulate' those (both systems) you can begin to accumulate a sleep debt. (Medina, BSP37)

Circadian Rhythms: a cycle or rhythm that is roughly 24 hours long; the cyclical daily fluctuations in biological and psychological processes. (Hockenbury, 130) The regular recurrence, in cycles of about 24 hours, of biological processes or activities, such as sensitivity to drugs and stimuli, hormone secretion, sleeping, and feeding. (MeSH) The basic framework of the molecular pathways in the cell that produce and maintain these daily rhythms has been elucidated. The central feature of the circadian pathways are two transcription factors, ‘Bmal 1’ and ‘Clock,’ that are expressed in a 24 hour cycle and that act together … to regulate the expression of other genes involved in maintaining the circadian rhythm. (NCIt)

Suprachiasmatic Nucleus: a tear-shaped dense area of cells in the hypothalamus, which is responsible for regulating circadian rhythms. (NCIt) A cluster of neurons … that governs the timing of circadian rhythms. (Hockenbury, 131) Daily rhythms such as the sleep-wake cycle are set by (these) cells that form a 'circadian pacemaker.' In these cells, certain 'clock' genes are expressed in response to light or dark in the environment. (Lewis, 153) 

Nucleus Basalis of Meynert: brain region that allows us to focus our attention. “BNDF” turns on this area and keeps it turned on throughout the entire “critical period.” Once turned on, the nucleus basalis helps us not only pay attention but remember what we are experiencing. When the critical period ends, BDNF turns off the nucleus basalis. Henceforth, the nucleus basalis can be activated only when something important, surprising, or novel occurs, or if we make the effort to pay close attention. Michael Merzenich has theorized about the connection of BDNF to “autism.” Additionally he thinks it could be possible to leverage BDNF production to reopen the nucleus basalis in adults in the future, which could lead to the possibility of high-speed learning. (Doidge, 80-84) Located in the “limbic system.” (Blumenfeld, 826) Also referred to as ‘nucleus basalis’ and ‘substantia innominata.’

Reticular Activating System: a system of nerve pathways in the brain concerned with the level of consciousness - from the states of sleep, drowsiness, and relaxation to full alertness and attention. (OxfordMed) Activates the entire “cerebral cortex,” leading to arousal and wakefulness, or, when needed, a small portion of the cortex, leading to selective “attention.” (Ramachandran, 116) Integrates information from all of the senses and from the “cerebrum” and “cerebellum” and determines the overall activity of the brain and the “autonomic nervous system.” (OxfordMed) 

Attention Types: focusing on certain aspects of current experience to the exclusion of others. (MeSH) The function of (visual) attention is to select a subset of information from the constant stream of information (on the order of one megabyte per second per eye) impinging onto the brain proper. Such a selection enables the organism to respond in real-time to important events. Non-attended events are processed at a reduced bandwidth. (Koch, 330)

Alertness: on the lookout; watchful, vigilant. Original context ‘military.’  Quick in attention or motion; lively, nimble. (Oxford) Condition of heightened watchfulness or preparation for action. The state of being alert and ready to respond. (NCIt)

Arousal: a state of alertness and of high responsiveness to stimuli. It is produced by strong "motivation," by “anxiety,” and by a stimulating environment. Physiological "activation" of the “cerebral cortex” by centers lower in the brain, such as the “reticular activating system,” resulting in wakefulness and alertness. (OxfordMed) Cortical vigilance or readiness of tone, presumed to be in response to sensory stimulation via the “reticular activating system.” (MeSH)

Awareness: conscious, sensible, not ignorant, having knowledge, well-informed, responsive to conditions. (Oxford) Having special interest in or experience of something and so being well informed of what is happening in that subject at the present time. (NCIt)

Wakefulness: a state in which there is an enhanced potential for sensitivity and an efficient responsiveness to external stimuli. (MeSH)

Selective Attention: selective attention is necessary for most forms of conscious perception. Historically, two broad forms of selective attention have been distinguished, top-down and bottom-up attention. At the neuronal level, one important manifestation of attention is to “bias” the coalitions that encode these objects. Selective attention is distinct from consciousness. (Koch, 330) Also referred to as ‘conscious attention.’

Attention Searchlight: metaphor for selective attention. Items illuminated by the searchlight benefit from additional processing. (Koch, 155) Also referred to as ‘attention spotlight.’ 

Bottom-Up Attention: a rapid and automatic form of selective attention. Only depends on intrinsic qualities in the input. The more salient a location or object in an image for example, the more likely it will be noticed. (Koch, 331) Also referred to as ‘saliency-based attention.’

Top-Down Attention: a volitional, focal, task-dependent, or endogenous selection mechanism operating in vision and other sensory modalities. At the neuronal level, one important function of attention is to bias the ‘coalitions’ that encode these objects. (Koch, 331)