MCAT Content / Attention / Divided Attention

Divided attention

Topic: Attention

Divided attention is the ability of the brain to attend to two different stimuli at the same time. The brain responds to multiple demands of the environment at the same time by using simultaneous attention, allowing a subject to process different information sources and carry out multiple tasks at one time.

Divided attention is sometimes known as multitasking. Multitasking can be defined as the attempt to perform two or more tasks simultaneously. However when multitasking people make more mistakes or perform their tasks more slowly. Each task increases cognitive load; attention must be divided among all of the component tasks to perform them.

An example of divided attention is when a waiter, for example, is working on 4 tables and must remember what is needed at each table, what stage of their meals people are at and also the delivery and retrieval of food. All of this puts increase cognitive load on the waiter’s attention.

Practice Questions

Khan Academy


MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Section Bank P/S Section Passage 1 Question 3

Key Points

• Divided attention is the ability to focus on multiple stimuli whilst simultaneously.

• Dividing attention slowly increases the cognitive load on an individual’s attention which can result in reduced performance and mistakes.

Key Terms

Cognitive load: the total amount of mental effort being used in working memory

Attention: selective concentration on a discrete stimulus while ignoring other perceivable stimuli

Multitasking: the attempt to perform two or more tasks simultaneously

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