In psychology, the act or state of applying the mind to an object of sense or thought. Wilhelm Wundt was perhaps the first psychologist to study attention, distinguishing between broad and restricted fields of awareness. He was followed by William James, who emphasized active selection of stimuli, and Ivan Pavlov, who noted the role attention plays in activating conditioned reflexes. John B. Watson sought to define attention not as an “inner” process but rather as a behavioral response to specific stimuli. Psychologists today consider attention against a background of “orienting reflexes” or “preattentive processes,” whose physical correlates include changes in the voltage potential of the cerebral cortex and in the electrical activity of the skin, increased cerebral blood flow, pupil dilation, and muscular tightening. See also attention deficit disorder.

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