Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Sustained Attention

Sustained attention is "the ability to direct and focus cognitive activity on specific stimuli." In order to complete any cognitively planned activity, any sequenced action, or any thought one must use sustained attention. An example is the act of reading a newspaper article. One must be able to focus on the activity of reading long enough to complete the task. Problems occur when a distraction arises. A distraction can interrupt and consequently interfere in sustained attention.

DeGangi and Porges (1990) indicate there are 3 stages to sustained attention which include:

  1. attention getting,
  2. attention holding, and
  3. attention releasing.

Sustained attention is important to psychologists because it is "a basic requirement for information processing." Therefore, sustained attention is important for cognitive development. When a person has difficulty sustaining attention, they often present with an accompanying inability to adapt to environmental demands or modify behaviour (including inhibition of inappropriate behaviour).


  1. DeGangi, G., & Porges, S. (1990). Neuroscience foundations of human performance. Rockville, MD: American Occupational Therapy Association.