My views regarding attention have changed somewhat after reading Siegel’s Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. But my views regarding the importance of attention have been further strengthened. According to Siegel, “Attention is the process that shapes the direction of the flow of energy and information. Attention can be within consciousness, so that we are aware of the object of our attention. Attention can also be nonconscious, in that energy and information flow is being directed, but we are not aware of that flow. The formal terms for these are focal (conscious) and nonfocal (non-conscious) attention.”

In other words, little important happens absent attention. What is new for me is the notion of nonfocal attention. I have always thought of attention as being consciousness or focal attention. However, upon reflection, I found examples of non-conscious attention. In this blog I have spoken of being unable to recall some information. I try and try, yet remain unable to access it. Then, much later, hours, sometimes days, the information suddenly pops into consciousness. There are also cases of scientific ideas and problem solutions popping into mind, seemingly out of nowhere.
But they did not pop out of nowhere. Apparently they were the result of nonfocal attention continuing to search for the item or solution long after the conscious mind had given up.

Being able to focus our attention so that we bring mental energy where it is needed is critical to the functioning of a healthy memory. And we have the consolation of knowing that our nonfocal attention might keep on working and learning even after our conscious efforts have ceased.

I’ll conclude this post with an excerpt from Siegel’s Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology. “From an interpersonal neurobiology perspective, attention is the “scalpel” that helps us remold neural pathways: Attention is to a clinician or teacher what a scalpel is to a surgeon. Individuals can be empowered with focal attention to move the neural proclivities of trauma into new states of integrative firing. Children whose teachers capture their imagination and inspire them to pay attemtion will be able to learn and build a scaffold of knowledge about the world and themselves. Attention is the driving force of change and growth.”1

1Siegel, D.J. (2012). Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobioloty: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

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