Attentional shift (or shift of attention) occurs when directing attention to a point to increase the efficiency of processing that point and includes inhibition to decrease attentional resources to unwanted or irrelevant inputs. Shifting of attention is needed to allocate attentional resources to more efficiently process information from a stimulus. Research has shown that when an object or area is attended, processing operates more efficiently. Task switching costs occur when performance on a task suffers due to the increased effort added in shifting attention. There are competing theories that attempt to explain why and how attention is shifted as well as how attention is moved through space.
Here, we update our 1990 Annual Review of Neuroscience article, “The Attention System of the Human Brain.” The framework presented in the original article has helped to integrate behavioral, systems, cellular, and molecular approaches to common problems in attention research. Our framework has been both elaborated and expanded in subsequent years. Research on orienting and executive functions has supported the addition of new networks of brain regions. Developmental studies have shown important changes in control systems between infancy and childhood. In some cases, evidence has supported the role of specific genetic variations, often in conjunction with experience, that account for some of the individual differences in the efficiency of attentional networks. The findings have led to increased understanding of aspects of pathology and to some new interventions.