Psychologically defined, concentration is the process of centering one's attention over a period of time. In practical application, however, concentration is not as simple to deal successfully with as the definition may imply. For this reason, it is helpful to keep the following points in mind.
Even with the greatest effort, our span of attention fluctuates. You can demonstrate for yourself this fluctuation of attention. In a quiet room, place a watch so that it can just scarcely be heard. Listen carefully and notice how the ticking increases in apparent intensity, fades to a point where it cannot be heard, and then increases again. This phenomenon reveals how our span of attention fluctuates, for the intensity of the ticking is actually constant.
Evidence to date indicates that you attend to one idea at a time. It is possible for your attention to shift so rapidly that it seems that you attend to several concepts at once. But apparently this is only an illusion. In high concentration the shift from the focus of attention is of short duration and relatively infrequent.
High attention has long periods of attending and short distraction periods. In low attention the periods of attending are short and the distraction periods long. In moderate attention there is a mixture of the extremes. Thus it is easy to see that it is highly unlikely that the student who has most of his attention centered on fancying at large will be able to recall even the major points of a lecture.
[en]Lack of concentration is a symptom, not the cause, of difficulty. When a student says "I can't concentrate", what he is really saying is, "I can't attend to the task at hand because my distractors are too strong."
A distractor is anything which causes attention to vary from a central focal point. In the study situation distractors may be thought of as either psychological or physical in nature. Both types of distractors must be understood before the student can attempt to remedy his lack of concentration.
The angry man forgets the pain of injury, the fearful man finds it difficult to enjoy pleasure and the tense or anxious person may react violently to the smallest of matters. In the student's life there are many psychological pressures and tensions which block effective productivity. The fears about making the grade, the doubts of the friendliness of a friend's behaviour and the pressures of limited finances - these are only a few of the emotional forces which affect the student.
Our environment is much more important to how we feel and react than we often think. Particularly is this true of the effect of physical distractors on mental tasks. One research report has shown that comprehension and retention of reading were decreased when students listened to lively music. However, rate of reading was not affected, so that many students were not aware that they were affected by the background distractor. Another study found that the ability to recall accurately was affected by distracting conditions. Most of the evidence indicates that noise affects adversely higher mental task output. Still, the effect of distractors is seldom fully appreciated by students.
Typically when students are faced with the evidence on distractors the argument is given that their cousin, friend, or classmate can study in "Grand Central Station." And he makes "all A's" too! There is evidence, of course, that motivation plays an important role in overcoming the effects of distractors and that there are considerable differences in individual spans of attention. Either of these factors could account for some individuals being able to do well using inefficient methods. The fact that some exceptional people do well under adverse conditions scarcely justifies your assuming that you are exceptional in the same manner. Your chances of success are higher if you avoid the distractors which are known to hinder the typical student.