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Article

Aidan Moran and John Toner

We are constantly bombarded by information. Therefore, during every waking moment of our lives, we face decisions about which stimuli to prioritize and which ones to ignore. To complicate matters, the information that clamors for our attention includes not only events that occur in the world around us but also experiences that originate in the subjective domain of our own thoughts and feelings. The end result is that our minds can consciously attend to only a fraction of the rich kaleidoscope of information and experiences available to us from our senses, thoughts, memories, and imagination. Attentional processes such as “concentration,” or the ability to focus on the task at hand while ignoring distractions, are crucial for success in sport and other domains of skilled performance. To illustrate, Venus Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, proclaimed that “for the players it is complete and pure focus. You don’t see anything or hear anything except the ball and what’s going on in your head.” For psychological scientists, concentration resembles a mental spotlight (like the head-mounted torch that miners and divers wear in dark environments) that illuminates targets located either in the external world around us or in the internal world of our subjective experiences. A major advantage of this spotlight metaphor is that it shows us that concentration is never “lost”—although it can be diverted to targets (whether in the external world or inside our heads) that are irrelevant to the task at hand. Research on attentional processes in sport and performance has been conducted in cognitive psychology (the study of how the mind works), cognitive sport psychology (the study of mental processes in athletes), and cognitive neuroscience (the study of how brain systems give rise to mental processes). From this research, advances have been made both in measuring attentional processes and in understanding their significance in sport and performance settings. For example, pupillometry, or the study of changes in pupil diameter as a function of cognitive processing, has been used as an objective index of attentional effort among skilled performers such as musicians and equestrian athletes. Next, research suggests that a heightened state of concentration (i.e., total absorption in the task at hand) is crucial to the genesis of “flow” states (i.e., rare and elusive moments when everything seems to come together for the performer) and optimal performance in athletes. More recently, studies have shown that brief mindfulness intervention programs, where people are trained to attend non-judgmentally to their own thoughts, feelings, and sensations, offer promise in the quest to enhance attentional skills in elite athletes. By contrast, anxiety has been shown to divert skilled performers’ attention to task-irrelevant information—sometimes triggering “choking” behavior or the sudden and significant deterioration of skilled performance. Finally, concentration strategies such as “trigger words” (i.e., the use of short, vivid, and positively phrased verbal reminders such as “this ball now”) are known to improve athletes’ ability to focus on a specific target or to execute skilled actions successfully.

Article

Jiaying Zhao and Brandon M. Tomm

Scarcity is the condition of having insufficient resources to cope with demands. This condition presents significant challenges to the human cognitive system. For example, having limited financial resources requires the meticulous calculation of expenses with respect to a budget. Likewise, having limited time requires the stringent management of schedules with respect to a deadline. As such, scarcity consumes cognitive resources such as attention, working memory, and executive control and elicits a range of systematic and even counter-productive cognitive and behavioral responses as a result. Specifically, scarcity induces an attentional focus on the problem at hand, which facilitates performance by enhancing cognitive processing of information relevant to the problem, increasing the efficiency of resource use, and stabilizing the perception of value. Such prioritization of the problem at hand may seem advantageous, but it can produce undesirable consequences. For example, scarcity causes myopic and impulsive behavior, prioritizing short-term gains over long-term gains. Ironically, scarcity can also result in a failure to notice beneficial information in the environment that alleviates the condition of scarcity. More detrimentally, scarcity directly impairs cognitive function, which can lead to suboptimal decisions and choices that exacerbate the condition of scarcity. Thus, scarcity means not only a shortage of physical resources (e.g., money or time) but also a deficit of cognitive resources (e.g., attention, executive control). The cognitive deficits under scarcity are particularly problematic because they impair performance and lead to counter-productive behaviors that deepen the cycle of scarcity. In addition, people under financial scarcity suffer from stigmas and stereotypes associated with poverty. These social perceptions of poverty further burden the mind by consuming cognitive resources, weakening performance in the poor. Understanding the cognitive and behavioral responses to scarcity provides new insights into why the poor remain poor, identifying the psychological causes of scarcity, and illuminating potential interventions to stop the cycle of scarcity. These insights have important implications for the design and the implementation of policies and services targeting the populations under scarcity.

Article

DeMond M. Grant and Evan J. White

Cognitive control is the ability to direct attention and cognitive resources toward achieving one’s goals. However, research indicates that anxiety biases multiple cognitive processes, including cognitive control. This occurs in part because anxiety leads to excessive processing of threatening stimuli at the expense of ongoing activities. This enhanced processing of threat interferes with several cognitive processes, which includes how individuals view and respond to their environment. Specifically, research indicates that anxious individuals devote their attention toward threat when considering both early, automatic processes and later, sustained attention. In addition, anxiety has negative effects on working memory, which involves the ability to hold and manipulate information in one’s consciousness. Anxiety has been found to decrease the resources necessary for effective working memory performance, as well as increase the likelihood of negative information entering working memory. Finally, anxiety is characterized by focusing excessive attention on mistakes, and there is also a reduction in the cognitive control resources necessary to correct behavior. Enhancing our knowledge of how anxiety affects cognitive control has broad implications for understanding the development of anxiety disorders, as well as emerging treatments for these conditions.

Article

Kyle G. Ratner

Contemporary models of how the mind operates and methods for testing them emerged from the cognitive revolution in the middle of the 20th century. Social psychology researchers of the 1970s and 1980s were inspired by these developments and launched the field of social cognition to understand how cognitive approaches could advance understanding of social processes. Decades later, core social psychology topics, such as impression formation, the self, attitudes, stereotyping and prejudice, and interpersonal relationships, are interpreted through the lens of cognitive psychology conceptualizations of attention, perception, categorization, memory, and reasoning. Social cognitive methods and theory have touched every area of modern social psychology. Twenty-first-century efforts are shoring up methodological practices and revisiting old theories, investigating a wider range of human experience, and tackling new avenues of social functioning.

Article

Kelsey E. Woods, Christina M. Danko, and Andrea Chronis-Tuscano

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by developmentally inappropriate levels of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and/or inattention. ADHD is chronic, may persist into adulthood, and is associated with impairment in social and academic/work domains across the lifespan. Children and adolescents with ADHD often present with executive function deficits and emotion dysregulation, and these deficits may increase impairment and risk for co-occurring disorders. The etiology of ADHD is not yet understood, though research suggests that biological and environmental factors (e.g., family, community) contribute to its development and course. It should be noted that ADHD commonly co-occurs with additional psychiatric disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), and major depressive disorder. Evidence-based assessment of ADHD requires information from multiple informants using multiple assessment methods to determine the presence of ADHD symptoms across settings and any co-occurring disorders. The evidence-based treatment options for ADHD are manifold. Pharmacotherapy for ADHD is common, although numerous behavioral interventions are also effective. Stimulant medications are commonly prescribed and are typically effective in ameliorating core ADHD symptoms. There is also evidence that the nonstimulant medication atomoxetine substantially decreases the symptoms of ADHD. Importantly, medication therapy works to reduce symptoms but typically does not alleviate the impairments associated with the disorder. Combined medication and behavioral interventions are more likely to reduce impairments and normalize behavior.

Article

Shuge Zhang, Tim Woodman, and Ross Roberts

Anxiety and fear are unpleasant emotions commonly experienced in sport and performance settings. While fear usually has an apparent cause, the source of anxiety is comparatively vague and complex. Anxiety has cognitive and somatic components and can be either a trait or a state. To assess the different aspects of anxiety, a variety of psychometric scales have been developed in sport and performance domains. Besides efforts to quantify anxiety, a major focus in the anxiety-performance literature has been to explore the impact of anxiety on performance and why such effects occur. Anxiety-performance theories and models have increased the understanding of how anxiety affects performance and have helped to explain why anxiety is widely considered a negative emotion that individuals typically seek to avoid in performance settings. Nonetheless, individuals approach anxiety-inducing or fear-provoking situations in different ways. For example, high-risk sport research shows that individuals can actively approach fear-inducing environments in order to glean intra- and interpersonal regulatory benefits. Such individual differences are particularly relevant to sport and performance researchers and practitioners, as those who actively approach competition to enjoy the fear-inducing environment (i.e., the “risk”) are likely to have a performance advantage over those who compete while having to cope with their troublesome anxiety and fear. Future research would do well to: (1) examine the effects of anxiety on the processes that underpin performance rather than a sole focus on the performance outcomes, (2) test directly the different cognitive functions that are thought to be impaired when performing under anxiety, (3) unite the existing theories to understand a “whole picture” of how anxiety influences performance, and (4) explore the largely overlooked field of individual differences in the context of performance psychology.

Article

Claudio Robazza and Montse C. Ruiz

Emotions are multifaceted subjective feelings that reflect expected, current, or past interactions with the environment. They involve sets of interrelated psychological processes, encompassing affective, cognitive, motivational, physiological, and expressive or behavioral components. Emotions play a fundamental role in human adaptation and performance by improving sensory intake, detection of relevant stimuli, readiness for behavioral responses, decision-making, memory, and interpersonal interactions. These beneficial effects enhance human health and performance in any endeavor, including sport, work, and the arts. However, emotions can also be maladaptive. Their beneficial or maladaptive effects depend on their content, time of occurrence, and intensity level. Emotional self-regulation refers to the processes by which individuals modify the type, quality, time course, and intensity of their emotions. Individuals attempt to regulate their emotions to attain beneficial effects, to deal with unfavorable circumstances, or both. Emotional self-regulation occurs when persons monitor the emotions they are experiencing and try to modify or maintain them. It can be automatic or effortful, conscious or unconscious. The process model of emotion regulation provides a framework for the classification of antecedent- and response-focused regulation processes. These processes are categorized according to the point at which they have their primary impact in the emotion generative process: situation selection (e.g., confrontation and avoidance), situation modification (e.g., direct situation modification, support-seeking, and conflict resolution), attentional deployment (e.g., distraction, concentration, and mindfulness), cognitive change (e.g., self-efficacy appraisals, challenge/threat appraisals, positive reappraisal, and acceptance), and response modulation (e.g., regulation of experience, arousal regulation, and expressive suppression). In addition to the process model of emotion regulation, other prominent approaches provide useful insights to the study of adaptation and self-regulation for performance enhancement. These include the strength model of self-control, the dual-process theories, the biopsychosocial model, the attentional control theory, and the individual zones of optimal functioning model. Based on the latter model, emotion-centered and action-centered interrelated strategies have been proposed for self-regulation in sport. Within this framework, performers identify, regulate, and optimize their functional and dysfunctional emotions and their most relevant components of functional performance patterns.