Different types of attention training include mindfulness training, attention process training and phasic alertness training. These activities are designed to improve the quality of attention for those who suffer from emotional or behavioral disorders or both. Games, computers, special techniques and sensory focus exercises are the backbone of attention training, offering opportunities to address problems with either divided attention or sustained attention.
Attention training benefits people who have attention deficit disorders (ADD) as well as those who are anxious, pessimistic and depressed. Focus training can help those with ADD ignore distractions and manage stimuli. For people who have mood disorders, psychologists say attention training can help skew their focus to things that are constructive and positive; research shows that many melancholy people have an attentional bias toward negative feelings or events and thus find it difficult to dwell on positive occurrences.
During mindfulness attention training, patients are comfortably seated and instructed to be hyper-aware of the present moment, barring any allusions of the past or concerns for the future. Patients are discouraged from assigning judgment to what they observe or experience in the current moment. With this understanding, the patient then uses breathing as the central focus of attention; he or she breathes deeply and in deliberate rhythm, becoming aware of every exhalation and inhalation for roughly 10 to 20 minutes.
Patients handle errant thought by returning their attention to breathing. This attention training activity can be practiced daily or in the midst of conflict or emotional frustration. Mindfulness can be practiced individually or in organized groups. Psychologists consider this mindfulness technique a form of meditation. In addition to strengthening a person’s ability to focus and control attention, mindfulness also helps with relaxation.
Attention process training (APT) improves four kinds of attention: divided attention, sustained attention, alternating attention and selective attention. Using written exercises, audio and timers, APT primarily hones auditory attention skills and visual attention skills. Researchers believe such attention training, done regularly, causes the brain to create additional synapses in the cerebral regions linked to attention and awareness, enabling better focus.
Many computer-based attention training exercises use the dot probe task, which is a psychological test that replaces neutral words with dots to see if a person will substitute a negative or positive word for the dot. This test is for those using attention training to eliminate negative biases. Other, more formal and extensive computerized training options exist. One of them is the Tonic and Phasic Alertness Training (TAPAT) program, which requires patients to maintain a sustained sense of readiness and awareness so they can shift attention from one computerized stimulus to the next for varying periods of time.