The term attention refers to mechanisms in the brain that contribute to the ability to focus one’s mental processes on specific information. For example, when a person is eating with friends in a crowded restaurant, he or she can hear many different voices at once. To process what one’s dinner companion is saying, a cognitive mechanism is needed that filters out all the other voices and simultaneously routes the sensory information that is the most relevant to one’s interests (the friend’s voice) to the areas of the brain that are critical for comprehending what the friend is saying.

Attention plays an important role in nearly all cognitive processes—from remembering where one put the keys to learning something new to answering a question. Attention is a flexible ...

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