What Is Concentration?

Eugene P.

Concentration is the ability to focus the mind on a task or series of tasks while ignoring other distractions. There are several levels of concentration based on how the mind is dealing with extraneous stimuli. Another measure of concentration is the span of time in which focus on a single task can be maintained. Certain disorders and neurological diseases can make it impossible for a person to focus. Several methods also are available to help improve focus when there is a problem.

Attention deficit disorder may cause a shortened attention span.
Attention deficit disorder may cause a shortened attention span.

Sustained attention is what is most commonly perceived as concentration in human beings. This is a state in which a person remains cognizant despite performing or experiencing something that does not readily keep his or her attention. The person will remain consistently focused on the task at hand for as long as it lasts, from beginning to end.

Medications may help improve memory problems.
Medications may help improve memory problems.

The opposite of sustained attention is focused attention. This is when a person is presented with some type of event that draws his or her attention to it. Although focused attention usually lasts only seconds, there is concentration and exclusion of other environmental events for that period of time before re-focusing on another subject.

Crossword puzzles can help improve concentration.
Crossword puzzles can help improve concentration.

The two remaining types of concentration are known as selective and alternating. Selective attention is the ability of a person to maintain focus on a task while other stimuli are threatening to actively draw away that attention. An example of this is called the cocktail party effect, in which a person is able to focus on a single listener while excluding all others talking in the room. Alternating attention is when a person can freely switch his or her attention between two separate tasks.

Concentration problems may hinder a person's ability to function to her or his full potential.
Concentration problems may hinder a person's ability to function to her or his full potential.

The normal mechanisms of focus can be interrupted by diseases or neurological disorders. These disorders can hinder the operation of the brain, causing a person either to move quickly from one subject to another or to hyper-focus on a single task for an extended period of time. These types of conditions often affect short-term memory, as well. Less extreme conditions, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), can cause a shortened attention span and difficulty learning.

Multi-tasking can prevent a person from concentrating fully on any one activity.
Multi-tasking can prevent a person from concentrating fully on any one activity.

There are mental exercises that can help people who have problems focusing. These can include structured games, timed activities, meditation or even just something as simple as doing crossword puzzles. Certain medications also can help to improve the level of focus and attention in a person who has trouble concentrating.

Someone who lacks concentration may frequently daydream.
Someone who lacks concentration may frequently daydream.
Some people believe access to electronic devices can cause concentration issues.
Some people believe access to electronic devices can cause concentration issues.

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Discussion Comments


@runner101 - It is understandable the worry about ADHD being over diagnosed and over medicated but their are also many great stories out there such as my husband's story.

He was not diagnosed until he was in his late 20's and it has changed his life. He has no difficulty taking his medicine, because he feels the difference it makes.

And as far as over medicating kids, in the school system I work for, the stories I have heard sound as though parents worry about this as well. They understandably worry about their child being a 'zombie' and at the first signs of any lethargy they completely take their child off the medication.

However my husband has told me that finding the right prescription and amount of medication is a process, so it can take quite a few tries from what I have heard.

Also, you mentioned about testing for ADD and if it had gotten better.

When my husband was tested for ADHD the doctor was an ADHD specialist and had a computer test where my husband was told to press a certain key if he saw certain things and not to press a certain key when he saw, I think, an X. So maybe they have come along farther with the tests or maybe something like this is still cutting edge.


@runner101 - I have found that working in the school system that although many people think that Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is being over diagnosed many children are *still* missed.

These children I am talking about are children with ADD versus ADHD. The main difference is the hyperactivity symptoms are seen in students with ADHD. These symptoms are not seen in children with simply ADD. Children with ADD are more often to be missed because of this.

Children with ADD are likely to be thought of as lazy as @Brickback discussed because they are the ones quietly daydreaming in the back of the class. And they are daydreaming not because they are lazy but because their mind works just like someone with ADHD in that it is impossible to concentrate but their mind works differently in that it is more likely to wander off but does not compel them to act in a hyper manner.


I had read somewhere that there is a difference between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)?

But I do not understand how there can be a difference when you have a deficit in mind concentration and task concentration in both the disorders?

I have also heard that these disorders are being over diagnosed and children are being over medicated. Are better tests being developed to help better diagnose children with ADD?


I wanted to add that my daughter had trouble focusing and had poor concentration when she was younger. I placed in a supplemental math program since she was in kindergarten that has her timing her work every time. This has helped her enormously combat her poor concentration because the math assignments normally take about twenty minutes to complete and having to write the start time and end time on the sheets allows her to see how she is progressing and makes her more aware of the need to focus. She also gets moved up based on her mastery of the material which also motivates her to do better.

She now has no problem with her school work, but at least she has a gauge on the days that she does daydream a little. She knows how long she should take to do most assignments and really focuses to get it done.


I wanted to say that my friend had her son tested for entry to a gifted program. While the boy tested in the gifted range regarding his overall I. Q. he also showed deficits in his working memory which meant that his short term memory was considered average while the rest of his cognitive ability was considered in the very superior range.

They told her that those children that have this type of personal weakness can also have ADD or some sort of learning disability. She explained that there are many programs to enhance a child’s working memory and she added that the improvement would also boost the IQ even higher.

She added that although this child was very smart, he also has even more potential if his short term memory is improved. I think that potential learning disabilities are overlooked in children this bright because a lot of people don’t understand why the child is not working to his potential. These kids are often labeled as lazy when they really had a learning impairment.

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