Attention Shifting: Meaning And Significance

Attention is the behavioral and cognitive procedure of selectively concentrating on a discrete aspect of information, whether considered subjective or objective while avoiding other perceivable information. Attention changes continuously with the change of interest. Shifting attention is common among people of all age groups but is most common among young children and older adults.

What is Attention Shifting?

Moving the focus of attention from one location to other or from one object to another is known as shifting of attention. It is alternating an individual's attention back and forth between two distinct tasks that need the use of different brain parts. Individuals always need sudden changes in their activities which need to shift their attention. In some cases, attention shifts can be made intentionally or caused automatically by the sudden arrival of a stimulus. A structural line must be presented a few hundred milliseconds prior to the information displayed to permit attention to be shifted to the cued location for intentional shifts. Shifting attention is necessary as it permits an individual to redirect attention to aspects of the environment they want to concentrate on and process in due course. According to some research, processing operates more effectively when an object or an area is attended to. Attention shifting can be caused due to various reasons. One example of shifting attention is reading a recipe and then trying out the recipe.

Processes of Attention Shifting

Shifting of attention involves three parts: attention must be disengaged, shifted to a new location, and re-engaged. Attention shifting is almost similar to shifting gears in a car with a manual transfer. Steeping on the clutch pedal responds to the disengaging of attention, and moving the shift knob to transfer attention to a new location and releasing the clutch is re-engaging. A jerk itself responds to the shift of attention, and re-establishing fixation happens at the end of the jerk.

Spelling and Attention Shifting

As children grow up and enter formal schooling, shifting attention helps them develop adaptive learning plans of action and apply them flexibly to changing task demands. During elementary school, children are most challenged with non-alphabetic aspects of writing, which need them to shift between several mental tasks, which involve retrieving the spelling of words from memory and applying phonetic patterns. According to Lubin et al., shifting of attention appear particularly suggestive of spelling outcomes among elementary school children. The relation between attention shifting and literacy skills is well established in the case of English-speaking children. However, their proofs show that the association might be different for other languages in some cases. For example, the association between attention-shifting and literacy skills was not significant in the case of French-speaking children. The relation between executive functions and reading was found negative in the case of Dutch-speaking children in elementary school.

Sex differences in Attention Shifting

Sex differences in attention shifting in favor of girls have been reported across age groups. Neuropsychological differences may underlie a girl's advantage in attention shifting. According to Feng, greater brain activation was found among women compared to men when completing an attention-shifting task among students in their early twenties. Many researchers together suggest that the shifting of attention differs by sex. Nevertheless, it is not clear from the studies if the sex differences are similar or distinct across age groups. While some studies suggest that the gap between boys and girls in controlling functions goes up from childhood to adolescence, other studies suggest that boys could catch up in their executive functioning skills as they grow older.

Attention shifting due to Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

Attention shifting due to Prenatal Alcohol Exposure

One of the most important factors for neuropsychological deficiencies in children is Fetal Alcohol Syndrome which is still emerging, these deficiencies can affect general intelligence, learning, and visuospatial function.

Due to heavy prenatal alcohol exposure, the children may have deficiencies in attention and a constant shift in attention.

Almost 60% of the children with Fetal Alcohol syndrome manifest shifting of attention and many receive psychiatric diagnoses of disorders related to attention.


From the above discussion, it can be concluded that shifting attention is a constant thing. Attention shifting is seen among people of age groups but is most prevalent among older adults and younger children. For shifting attention, three steps are involved. Shifting of attention occurs due to various reasons like excessive prenatal alcohol exposure, and the rate of attention shifting varies from gender to gender. Shifting attention is important because it assigns the resources related to attention to process information more effectively from a stimulus. One of the advantages of shifting attention is that it helps in the quick adaptability of new skills, knowledge, and unexpected events. One of the disadvantages of shifting attention is the short span of attention in every event, which leads to poor performance at school or the workplace, missing important details or information, and inability to memorize things to the point.