Attentional Control, Processing Speed, and the Effect of Aging Video

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  • 0:01 Attention & Processing Power
  • 2:08 Processes
  • 3:10 Aging of Attention &…
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

In this lesson, we look at the overlap between attention and processing speed as well as how age influences them. This includes the process of heavy mental effort becoming more automated.

Attention & Processing Power

The brain is an amazing and complex organ that has only recently been surpassed by machines in terms of sheer processing power. We still have the edge when it comes to size, weight, temperature, and energy demands. Once the computers beat us on that, then we're in trouble. The other reason I wanted to mention brains and computers in the same thought is that they both have a handful of things in common, namely processing speed and the issue of getting older. In this lesson, we will discuss what attention and processing power are and how they are affected by age.

When measuring pretty much anything in psychology, we need to look for attention, or the degree to which focus is placed on something. If someone is not paying attention to what they are doing, then they aren't going to do very well at it. Think about taking a test you are only half paying attention to; you won't answer as well as if you were really paying attention.

Another major factor we need to consider is processing speed, which is the fastest an individual can work through a problem correctly. Processing speed is dependent on two factors: the speed and the correctness. If you are blazingly fast but get everything wrong, that's really bad.

Assuming humans have only so much they can pay attention to at one time, attention has also been referred to as allocation of processing resources. These resources can vary person to person, since some people are very talented when it comes to some things and others struggle. My wife can read a full fictional book in less than two days if she really puts her mind to it, and it takes me nearly a week since I am not a fast reader. However, when it comes to writing, I can hammer out a four-page paper in less than two hours, while it may take her a day or two. So, each person has a balance between where they put their resources and how good those resources are.


When it comes to processing, we have two ideas on opposite sides of the same coin. The first is effortful process, which is a task requiring high levels of attention. This is like learning how to read, walk, drive a car, or anything else. Your processing speed is in the toilet, and it requires a large amount of your processing resources. But, as we get older and more experienced with whatever it is, our effortful process shifts into automatic process, which is an ability that does not require extensive attention. When most of us first started to learn reading, it required a massive amount of attention and effort. This would be like learning how to type on a QWERTY keyboard. But as we grew older and better at it, effortful process slipped into automatic process. Many tasks we do every day, like reading, driving, and speaking, originally began as effortful processes.

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