in Cognitive Psychology

Continuous partial attention

“continuous partial attention n. A state in which most of one’s attention is on a primary task, but where one is also monitoring several background tasks just in case something more important or interesting comes up. Also: CPA.”

Continuous partial attention is one of the side effects of mobile networked computing; it’s parasitic on our desires to feel connected to other people.


Continuous partial attention is an always on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that creates an artificial sense of crisis. We are always in high alert. We reach to keep a top priority in focus, while, at the same time, scanning the periphery to see if we are missing other opportunities, and if we are, our very fickle attention shifts focus. What’s ringing? Who is it? How many emails? What’s on my list? What time is it in Beijing?

“Continuous partial attention and multi-tasking are two different attention strategies, motivated by different impulses. When we multi-task, we are motivated by a desire to be more productive and more efficient. Each activity has the same priority – we eat lunch AND file papers. We stir the soup AND talk on the phone…We multi-task to CREATE more opportunity for ourselves -time to DO more and time to RELAX more.

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