Attention and Memory in the Cognitive Psychology


The concept of attention is a nightmare to the majority of scholars. It involves a number of psychological happenings, as well as, concentrating on one or a number of activities while disregarding the others. People can consciously allocate their attention to tasks. Attention facilitates the selection of the relevant information from a huge amount of information, while cognition facilitates the assemblage of the enormous amount of information from a number of sources.

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Concept of attention

Psychologists have never taken their time to come up with a clear definition of the concept of attention. Indeed, one may be right to claim that no one knows what the concept of attention actually means. The truth is that the concept of attention entails a number of psychological phenomena. It may be defined as, “the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things” (Vohs, 2000, p. 355).

For instance, one may listen attentively to what a speaker is saying whilst disregarding other banters. Attention is normally limited. This underlines the reason why it is hard for persons to process all that they see or hear. Besides, attention is flexible such that an individual might switch from one mode of attention to another. For instance, one may switch from paying interest to the physical appearance of a phenomenon, to analyzing the inherent meaning of the phenomenon.

Attention allocation

One can consciously allocate attention to tasks. Vohs posits, “The human mind has a miraculous way of working on an idea in mind and manifesting it” (2000, p. 356). Nevertheless, one does not need to pay attention to some of the body functions like heartbeat and pant. These functions run involuntarily. Human kinds are capable of allocating their attention to a number of tasks simultaneously. This happens under the condition that the different tasks “take different sensory input and output paths” (Vohs, 2000, p. 359). The habit might also allocate attention in a manner that seems as if the brain remains focused on a single stimulus.

In such a circumstance, concentration and cognitive exploitations become unified and mechanized, thereby, allowing individuals to process things that are beyond their cognitive control. Attention prototypes tend to be inclined towards positive things only. People pay little attention to negative things that happen in their life. In other words, negative stimuli tend to drive the individual’s attention.

Relationship between attention and cognition

Attention refers to the cognitive process of concentrating on a number of items or activities while ignoring others. On the other hand, cognition refers to a psychological procedure through which one acquires knowledge. The cognitive feature of the mind only operates when, “a quartet of psychological processes guided by the attention feature of the mind work in a group” (Laureys, 2006, p. 35). Cognition facilitates the extraction of a particular amount of data from enormous information.

On the other hand, to break down the enormous information, and select the relevant data, calls for attention. Whilst cognition entails the course of altering opinions into deeds and emotions, attention entails the collection, implementation, and realization of specific feelings. In other words, cognition facilitates the collection of information, while attention facilitates the identification of the relevant data out of the gathered information. Therefore, one might argue that cognition precedes attention and, hence, they are intertwined (Laureys, 2006).

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Attention and cognition go hand in hand. Before an individual gets attentive, one begins by recognizing certain things happening in their surroundings. Cognition facilitates to see the wider picture of a phenomenon. Conversely, attention helps an individual to synthesize a phenomenon by focusing on the finer details of the phenomenon.


Primary memory refers to the brain section where information is stored for a short period. It is easier to retrieve information from the primary memory. Once the information reaches the primary memory, it is transferred to secondary memory for storage. To retrieve information from the secondary memory, one requires recalling certain signals as information is encoded based on signals.

Primary memory

Primary memory refers to the section of the brain where information gathered is stored. At times, the primary memory is also called short-term memory (Willingham, 2007). After use, people discard the information stored in the primary memory. One of the features of short-term memory is that its aptitude differs from one individual to another. Willingham (2007) argues that primary memory codes information in three ways.

They are in terms of meaning, sound, and appearance. Primary memory retains, for a longer time, the information stored in terms of meaning relative to the information stored in terms of sound and appearance. Willingham (2007) argues that it is possible for the primary memory to retain and recover information stored in the form of lumps. This underlines the reason why individuals are able to remember a poem for a long time. The faculty of short-term memory ranges between five and nine units.

Process of memory from perception to retrieval

Once information enters the primary memory, it may be transferred to the long-term memory for storage. Attention and practice facility in determining the amount of information to be passed to the long-term memory for storage. Information acquired from topics studied for a long duration is likely to be stored in secondary memory for a long time. Moreover, information such as a message from a poem, which is practiced severally, is likely to be stored in long-term memory.

Sometimes, the stored information is moved from the secondary memory to the primary memory for retrieval. Ordinarily, this happens to the information that is not used regularly but is still available for use, if the need arises. Willingham posits, “… this makes sense. The fact that one likes maple syrup on pancakes but prefer lingon berry jam on toast is stored in long-term memory but not in primary memory” (2007, p. 164). Whenever people are asked about what they prefer to be on pancakes, the respondents retrieve their answer from the long-term memory and transfer it to the primary memory.

Reliability of memory retrieval

Memory retrieval can prove to be extremely undependable at times, particularly, when trying to retrieve marginal information. Sign, be it situational, contextual, or locality, plays a significant role during memory retrieval. For instance, upon visiting a place, one retrieves information regarding an event that happened at that place without difficulties. In addition, in the memory retrieval process, one recognizes a phenomenon better than it is possible to recall it.

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This happens because the long-term memory stores information according to its meaning (Buckner et al., 2000). Through signs, an individual can make use of semantics associated with an idea or incidence, therefore, identifying the incidence. Whenever an individual remembers an idea, in the exact way that it was stored, they enhance information retrieval. When individuals utilize recall as a channel to facilitate remembering an incidence, they attempt to retrieve the information without using signs. In the absence of semantic signals, like the relationship between a bench and a chair, an individual is forced to evoke the memory independently.


Information that reaches the primary memory is shipped to the secondary memory for storage. Otherwise, the information is discarded after use. The retrieval exercise involves shipping information from long-term memory to short-term memory. Since the memory encodes information based on semantic signs, recalling the signs facilitates information retrieval.


Buckner, R., Logan, J., Donaldson, D., & Wheeler, M. (2000). Cognitive neuroscience of episodic memory encoding. Acta Psychologica, 105(3), 127-139.

Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal. New York, NY: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Laureys, S. (2006). The Boundaries of Consciousness: Neurobiology and neuropathology. New York: Elsevier Publishers.

Vohs, J. (2000). An empirical approach to the concept of attention. Speech Monographs, 31(3), 355-360.

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