How does a child’s perceptual development progress, and what is the role of attention in this process? This lesson will use examples to teach you about this relationship and walk you through the changes.
Perceptual Growth in Children
Meet Matthew. When Matthew was just a newborn, he was able to learn about the world around him from his senses. For example, he could tell if a blanket was soft or which direction a sound was coming from.
As an infant, Matthew experiences all of the sensory input that is occurring at any given time.By the time he is two years old, something has changed. Matthew can now use his senses in a planned way to gain information about an object. For instance, he may see how tightly he can squeeze the dog’s tail before it will bark or discover that the red button on the remote makes the TV turn on. Instead of being bombarded with sensory input, Matthew is learning to pay attention to specific pieces of his environment.Seven-year-old Matthew can be found practicing the piano. He has to focus on the notes on the sheet music and pick out the correct ones to play.
He can do this for a long enough period of time to play the entire piece. Matthew can filter out distractions and make changes in pitch or rhythm as he plays. He has learned to perform different activities with each hand at the same time, and sometimes he even sings along as he plays.This is an example of a child who is able to apply his perceptual learning to much more than just basic differences in sound, touch, noise, taste or sight. How does Matthew’s ability to focus his attention create these differences in perceptual learning abilities as he grows older?
Attention and Perception
Attention is the concentration of the mind on a single person, object or task.
As our infant becomes a toddler, the changes in their capacity for attention affect their perceptual development. These changes include longer attention spans, selectivity about what they focus on and the ability to use their senses to accomplish goals. In other words, the development of attention allows a child to learn to use their senses in strategic ways to gather information about their environment.
How is this different from the way Matthew learned as an infant? For one thing, as an infant, Matthew did not choose what aspects of his environment he would notice. If a rattle is shaken in front of him, he hears and sees the rattle. If a rattle and a bell are shaken in front of him, he sees and hears both items. As Matthew gets older, he becomes able to choose which sound to attend to.If the rattle and bell are both shaken in front of him, he can choose one stimuli to focus on and ignore the other. The length of time he can spend focusing on one item is increasing as well.
He can focus on the bell instead of the rattle and also listen long enough to recognize a short tune, such as ‘Jingle Bells.’
Five Categories of Attention
We have now seen, to some degree, that as Matthew progresses through childhood, his ability to experience attention will progress as well. To illustrate this, let’s look at how Matthew becomes a remote control expert that develops into a young piano player.
We’ll do this by considering five categories of attention that continue to develop as a child develops.First up is focused attention. This refers to the ability to give a specific response to a particular stimulus. Here’s an example: Matthew wants to watch television, so let’s make this the stimulus.
He knows that his mother uses the remote control to turn on the television, so he will bring the remote to her whenever he wants to watch a show.Next, sustained attention refers to the ability to hold focused attention on a task for a period of time. This is also sometimes referred to as attention span. Let’s go back to our example. Matthew has been watching his mother after he brings her the remote.
He is now able to hold his attention on what is happening for a long enough period of time to see that she pushes the buttons when she wants to work the television.Selective attention is the ability to focus on one stimulus when presented with many stimuli. Now that Matthew knows you push buttons to work the television, he begins to play with the remote control. Soon, the television comes on. After a few more pushes, Matthew figures out which button on the remote makes this happen. He accomplishes this by focusing his attention on one of the many buttons on the remote control.Alternating attention is the capacity to shift attention back and forth between different tasks.
Soon, Matthew has figured out which buttons on the remote perform other tasks, such as changing the channels on the television. He shifts his attention back and forth between the television show and the remote control as he decides which channel he wants to watch.Finally, divided attention refers to the ability to divide attention between two tasks simultaneously. Matthew has become such an expert at using his attention skills that he no longer has to alternate his attention between the television and the remote when he wants to change the channel. He can focus on doing both at the same time!Now that Matthew has mastered the art of being a couch potato, his mom thinks that she needs to find a more productive use of these newly learned abilities. Matthew is getting piano lessons! Luckily for Matthew, he has mastered the attention skills that are necessary to be successful at this complicated task.
As a child grows, they are able to apply perceptual learning to much more than decoding basic sensory input. The influence of attention plays a big role in this development. Attention is the concentration of the mind on a single person, object or task.We have considered five ways attention affects perceptual development.
Focused attention is the ability to give a specific response to a particular stimulus. Sustained attention, or attention span, is the ability to hold focused attention on a task for a period of time. Selective attention is the ability to focus on one stimulus when presented with many stimuli.
Alternating attention is the capacity to shift attention back and forth between different tasks and divided attention is the ability to divide attention between two tasks simultaneously.Changes in the capacity for attention affect perceptual development. Because of this, the development of attention allows a child to learn to use their senses in strategic ways and develop new skills.
At the end of this lesson, you’ll be able to:
- Explore the relationship between attention and the way in which a child perceives the world
- Evaluate the five ways in which attention affects perceptual development
- Apply those five capacities for attention to a real-world example of a developing child