Applied Neuropsychology of Attention: Theory, Diagnosis, and Rehabilitation

Applied Neuropsychology of Attention: Theory, Diagnosis, and Rehabilitation

Applied Neuropsychology of Attention: Theory, Diagnosis, and Rehabilitation

Applied Neuropsychology of Attention: Theory, Diagnosis, and Rehabilitation


The concept of attention in academic psychology has been treated with varying degrees of importance over the years. From playing a key role in the 19th century, it was discarded in the first half of the 20th century, as clinical psychologists claimed it was superfluous to the essential subconscious processes of the mind, and experimental psychologists thought it was not a scientific term. Applied Neuropsychology of Attention aims to review the considerable developments in the field of attention over the last 20 years as it makes its comeback. This collection of essays forms a comprehensive overview of this crucial component of human cognitive function. The book begins with an explanation of the essential theoretical concepts and definitions. Aspects of diagnosis are then discussed as the assessment and impairments of attention are reviewed in normal ageing and in specific neurological categories. Victims of brain injury and patients with cerebrovascular or neurodegenerative diseases are considered. A critical analysis of existing practices in cognitive rehabilitation is given and a review of the techniques and methodologies used for treating attentional disturbances brings the book to a conclusion. Leclercq and Zimmermann have compiled a book of cutting-edge research which provides an effective framework to detect, analyse and understand the nature of attention deficit. The book will be invaluable to clinicians, mental health specialists and all academic psychologists in the field.


When I first read the manuscript of this book, two thoughts came to my mind: that it is clearly a European enterprise, and that it has a very long historical background.

In times past, attention was a key concept in academic psychology. The introspecting psychologists of the nineteenth century ascribed a central role to attention. Even in 1908, Titchener, a British student of Wundt, wrote that 'the doctrine of attention is the nerve of the whole psychological system'. However, new schools in psychology arose and discarded this central concept. Psychoanalysis had no use for attention, as the essential processes in the mind were supposed to be unconscious. Likewise, Gestalt psychology did not embrace the concept of attention, as perception and other cognitive processes were supposed to be ruled by 'laws' that were not under the control of the subject. Behaviourism had no need for attention as the theorists of this school considered behaviour to be ruled completely by laws from learning theory: between S and R, attention seemed a superfluous concept.

Still, attention did not disappear completely: it survived in several forms in applied disciplines such as clinical neurology and clinical psychology. Neurologists with an interest in behaviour went on using bedside tests of attention, usually methods to test 'mental control' by placing a certain load on working memory. Serial Sevens, the serial subtracting of 7 from 100, is a well-known example. In this way, neurologists tested the ability of their patients to concentrate on a cognitive task. In clinical psychology and in industrial psychology, several tests were used to assess the ability of subjects to work quickly and efficiently in visual search tasks. Well-known European examples are the Bourdon dot configuration task and the Brickenkamp d2 test. Apparently, although academic psychology had dismissed the concept of attention, it could not be dismissed in practice.

More or less abruptly, attention made its comeback after World War II. It had been noted in wartime conditions that soldiers and sailors, keeping watch at radar screens or with sonar devices, lost their ability to detect signals rapidly. Also, in industry it had been observed that workers had a limited capacity in the monitoring of complex control panels. These practical

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