In this guide, we will discuss what lack of attention means, possible causes and what conditions can manifest this as a symptom or sign.
Lack of attention
Lack of attention happens when there is limited processing capacity which implies competition for attention. As human beings, we spend every waking moment paying attention to many things at the same time. This can be related to the term inattention, which usually implies that at a certain moment in time, that thing or a person you are attending to is either not what it was intended to be or not what adaptively it ought to be.
You may have had those moments where you may seem like paying attention to a conversation and where physically present but you were actually not taking in what was happening. On many of those occasions, thoughts or worries were using all your attention resources even though there was sufficient external stimulation for you to attend to what was going on.
We can say some synonyms for Lack of attention are inattentive, neglectful, preoccupied, distant, absent, abstracted, spaced out (macmillandictionary.com), little attention, scant attention or insufficient attention.
Other internal processes such as being hungry or being in pain can take all of our attention span, since it becomes a top priority to deal with it and leave the other external stimuli out. However, it is also possible that irrelevant information we are perceiving from the outside world is the source of our distraction. For instance, you may be chatting with a friend but suddenly there is a loud noise and then you just focus your attention on it instead of your friend, becoming inattentive to what they are saying.
This is also known as an intrusive stimulus that is classed by your brain as a high priority. Some people are more easily distracted than others, but for everyone distractibility depends on the circumstances. On the contrary, when you are motivated and you are very involved when doing something, you may be able to disregard whatever is happening around you.
Attention is considered a behavioral and cognitive process that involves selecting and concentrating on certain stimuli. It serves a filter where we tend to leave out those stimuli that are not relevant.
These inputs can be either heavily filtered or dealt with at an automatic level. For instance, pain can be a competing stimulus from a sustained injury by someone who is competing or playing a football game. In the early stages of the game, or before the game we can remain focused and attend the pain we are feeling but once we start playing then our attention filter is used to do something else and we don’t become aware of the pain until the game finishes.
We have the ability to shift our attention when needed and for some people, it seems that they are unable to focus just on one stimulus at a time reporting difficulties concentrating even when they do something like reading a book or when writing. It has been suggested that people with chronic anxiety may suffer from being distracted easily towards irrelevant stimuli.
In addition, many psychiatric disorders have also been linked to a lack of attention such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and it has also been suggested that one of the causes of this disorder may be having interference in the mechanisms of attention.
Also, consider that you could be having a lack of attention due to lack of sleep, hormonal changes or certain medical conditions such as anemia, diabetes, migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, hypothyroidism, among others.
Lapses of attention
According to britannica.com, “It has been established that to conserve limited resources, whole sequences and hierarchies of actions can apparently be elicited without focal attention when they have been well learned or executed many times. There is a reason, however, to suppose that at least a minimum level of focal attention may be necessary if only to ensure that the correct sequence or hierarchy is initiated.”
A failure in monitoring can result in something classed as lapses of attention. For instance, many people have experienced how they usually do something in an automatic way such as putting their keys in their bag before going out but then they come back looking for the keys since they think they have forgotten them or people who usually take the same route every day to go to work decide going a different route but find themselves taking the same route as they do every day.
Other common examples are attempting to switch the light off when they are leaving a room in plain daylight or the opposite leaving a room during the night and switching the light off even if there are still people in the room. In each case, a well-established action has been inappropriately triggered by partial cues and has slipped past the attentional monitor.
Similar errors tend to occur when we are thinking about something else or not really paying attention to what we are doing. In many circumstances, it is advantageous that automatic sequences of behavior should be executed with only very limited reference to conscious attention.
Performance can be disrupted when we put too much attention on executing a task or action. “Nevertheless, people cannot dispense entirely with some degree of attentional monitoring if they are to avoid errors.”
Another kind of lapse can happen when we are unable to remember or we are not sure if we did something as part of an automated response. For instance, when you ask yourself if you actually did lock your door with a key or if you actually turn the stove off after cooking a meal.
Curiously, there is another automatic action that can trigger unwanted/inappropriate actions such as wanting to take your sweater off but instead you also lift your shirt with it. Most of the lapses have something in common and that is, that they occur when your attention is focused on internal processes or preoccupations such as thoughts, or when we are distracted.
Is the lack of attention part of ADHD?
This is a common question and we can say that problems with attention, especially those related to focus for long periods of time or having the ability to pay attention to detail is one of the characteristics of ADHD. There are other disorders that can have a lack of attention or focus as one of their symptoms, as we have mentioned such as depression, anxiety, drug addiction, and other neurological disorders.
It is important to determine the cause of your lack of attention because it can be an underlying condition to something else.
Due to a lack of attention, people with ADHD have many difficulties when starting and/or finishing tasks or projects. However, it is important to mention that lack of focus or attention goes beyond just having trouble paying attention. It means they are also easily distracted which makes it difficult for them to listen to what other people are saying in a conversation, overlooking details or initiating/engaging in certain activities.
Subsequently, lack of attention can also contribute to memory problems or being described as “forgetful”. For many people forgetting things is very common but for someone with ADHD, being forgetful is part of their day to day activities. According to Healthline “This can include routinely forgetting where you’ve put something or what important dates you need to keep.”
Kids or a child with ADHD are described by their school teachers as “inattentive” or “lacking attention” also, they can refer that the student is not able to concentrate, initiate or finish tasks. However, in some cases, this could just be related to a lack of motivation generating low performance at school.
Sometimes forgetting something such as where you have put your car keys or if you forgot to but milk for your breakfast can be unimportant or can easily be overlooked. But in some cases it can become something serious, even influencing or disrupting your relationships with others or getting you in trouble at work.
Why is this blog about lack of attention important?
Lack of attention to certain things and under certain situations is considered normal and part of human nature, we sometimes don’t get to pay attention to all the relevant stimuli around us or our brain does not get to process the information at a given moment.
The bottom line is that lack of attention is something you should consider if it is manifesting too frequently. This could be an underlying symptom of a bigger problem to consider such as an unidentified medical condition, side effect of a medication you are taking or a vitamin deficiency due to a poor diet.
Whatever the reason may be, you should consult with your physician to rule out any medical conditions or other reasons he/she might be able to detect according to your particular situation. Please feel free to comment in the comments section below!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about lack of attention
What is lack of attention called?
Lack of attention can also be called as inattention and it is considered a symptom/sign of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Does not pay attention?
Does not pay attention or not paying attention is when someone refuses to show that you see or hear something or someone.
What is the synonym of attention?
Synonyms of attention are fixation, obsession, preoccupation, alertness, application, awareness, consciousness, consideration, heedfulness, intentness, raptness, regard, contemplation, meditation, musing, pondering or rumination (merriam-webster.com).
What is a word for paying attention?
Another word for paying attention can be attentive, heedful or thoughtful. It could also mean giving close and thoughtful attention.
What causes a lack of concentration?
Lack of concentration can be caused by stress and anxiety, depression, lack of motivation or simply being distracted by something else.
What causes no focus?
Causes of no focus or unable to focus are said to be related to suffering from chronic stress, having poor sleep quality or lack of sleep, hormonal changes that can trigger brain fog, being under a specific diet which can cause vitamin deficiencies, certain medications or certain medical conditions (e.g anemia, diabetes, migraines, Alzheimer’s disease or hypothyroidism).