Loyola University Chicago

Infant & Early Childhood Cognition Lab

Attention In Infancy and Early Childhood: Why Do We Study It?

Understanding the development of early attention is important for at least three reasons.  First, attention plays a primary role in learning and the acquisition of information.  Infants have substantial limitations in their abilities to comprehend information, verbally communicate, and use their hands, arms, and legs to manipulate objects, move about the world, and explore.  For them, visual attention (or looking) is a critical means for learning about the world. 

Second, measures of attention during the first year of life are modestly related to later measures of cognitive outcome like IQ (Bornstein & Sigman, 1986; Colombo, 1993; Rose & Feldman, 1997; Sigman, Cohen, & Beckwith, 1997; Tamis-LeMonda & Bornstein, 1989). 

Third, with apparent increases in the incidence of childhood attentional problems (such as attention deficit disorder, ADD) studying the development of early attention is particularly crucial because having a comprehensive and strong knowledge base of the basic the tenets of attention is a fundamental prerequisite for future work on the processes by which attentional dysfunction arise.  Thus, studying the development of early attention is important for advancing the field of cognitive development, and results from such research have important implications for how parents, teachers, and care providers may facilitate attention and construct learning environments in early childhood.  Furthermore, this type of basic research is relevant to psychologists developing interventions for children with attention problems.