Skip navigation
Hardcover | Out of Print | 464 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 34 b&w illus., 2 tables | April 2010 | ISBN: 9780262013840
Paperback | $47.00 Short | £39.95 | 464 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 34 b&w illus., 2 tables | April 2010 | ISBN: 9780262513951
eBook | $33.00 Short | April 2010 | ISBN: 9780262296830
Mouseover for Online Attention Data

Effortless Attention

A New Perspective in the Cognitive Science of Attention and Action
Edited by Brian Bruya
Introduction by Brian Bruya


This is the first book to explore the cognitive science of effortless attention and action. Attention and action are generally understood to require effort, and the expectation is that under normal circumstances effort increases to meet rising demand. Sometimes, however, attention and action seem to flow effortlessly despite high demand. Effortless attention and action have been documented across a range of normal activities—ranging from rock climbing to chess playing—and yet fundamental questions about the cognitive science of effortlessness have gone largely unasked. This book draws from the disciplines of cognitive psychology, neurophysiology, behavioral psychology, genetics, philosophy, and cross-cultural studies. Starting from the premise that the phenomena of effortless attention and action provide an opportunity to test current models of attention and action, leading researchers from around the world examine topics including effort as a cognitive resource, the role of effort in decision-making, the neurophysiology of effortless attention and action, the role of automaticity in effortless action, expert performance in effortless action, and the neurophysiology and benefits of attentional training.

Joshua M. Ackerman, James H. Austin, John A. Bargh Roy F. Baumeister, Sian L. Beilock, Chris Blais, Matthew M. Botvinick, Brian Bruya, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Marci S. DeCaro, Arne Dietrich, Yuri Dormashev, László Harmat, Bernhard Hommel, Rebecca Lewthwaite, Örjan de Manzano, Joseph T. McGuire, Brian P. Meier, Arlen C. Moller, Jeanne Nakamura, Michael I. Posner, Mary K. Rothbart, M.R. Rueda, Brandon J. Schmeichel, Edward Slingerland, Oliver Stoll, Yiyuan Tang, Töres Theorell, Fredrik Ullén, Gabriele Wulf

About the Editor

Brian Bruya is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Michigan University and Center Associate at the University of Michigan’s Center for Chinese Studies. He is the editor of Effortless Attention: A New Perspective on the Cognitive Science of Attention and Action.

Table of Contents

  • Effortless Attention

  • Effortless Attention
  • A New Perspective in the Cognitive Science of Attention and Action
  • edited by Brian Bruya
  • A Bradford Book
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • ©
  • 2010
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • MIT Press books may be purchased at special quantity discounts for business or sales promotional use. For information, please email or write to Special Sales Department, The MIT Press, 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142.
  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Effortless attention : a new perspective in the cognitive science of attention and action / edited by Brian Bruya.
  •  p. cm.
  • “A Bradford book.”
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01384-0 (hardcover : alk. paper)—ISBN 978-0-262-51395-1 (pbk. : alk. paper)
 1. Attention. 2. Cognitive neuroscience. I. Bruya, Brian, 1966–
  • QP405.E33 2010
  • 612.8’233—dc22
  • 2009030469
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2

  • For Yuling and Giorgio

  • Contents
  • Introduction: Toward a Theory of Attention That Includes Effortless Attention and Action 1
  • Brian Bruya
  • 1 Effortful Attention Control 29
  • Brandon J. Schmeichel and Roy F. Baumeister
  • 2 The Benefits and Perils of Attentional Control 51
  • Marci S. DeCaro and Sian L. Beilock
  • 3 Effortless Motor Learning?
  • : An External Focus of Attention Enhances Movement Effectiveness and Efficiency 75
  • Gabriele Wulf and Rebecca Lewthwaite
  • 4 The Impact of Anticipated Cognitive Demand on Attention and Behavioral Choice 103
  • Joseph T. McGuire and Matthew M. Botvinick
  • 5 Grounding Attention in Action Control
  • : The Intentional Control of Selection 121
  • Bernhard Hommel
  • 6 Implicit versus Deliberate Control and Its Implications for Awareness 141
  • Chris Blais
  • 7 Effortless Attention, Hypofrontality, and Perfectionism 159
  • Arne Dietrich and Oliver Stoll
  • 8 Effortless Attention in Everyday Life
  • : A Systematic Phenomenology 179
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Jeanne Nakamura
  • 9 Developing an Experimental Induction of Flow
  • : Effortless Action in the Lab 191
  • Arlen C. Moller, Brian P. Meier, and Robert D. Wall
  • 10 The Physiology of Effortless Attention
  • : Correlates of State Flow and Flow Proneness 205
  • Fredrik Ullén, Örjan de Manzano, Töres Theorell, and László Harmat
  • 11 Apertures, Draw, and Syntax
  • : Remodeling Attention 219
  • Brian Bruya
  • 12 Toward an Empirically Responsible Ethics
  • : Cognitive Science, Virtue Ethics, and Effortless Attention in Early Chinese Thought 247
  • Edward Slingerland
  • 13 Flow Experience Explained on the Grounds of an Activity Approach to Attention 287
  • Yuri Dormashev
  • 14 Two to Tango
  • : Automatic Social Coordination and the Role of Felt Effort 335
  • Joshua M. Ackerman and John A. Bargh
  • 15 The Thalamic Gateway
  • : How the Meditative Training of Attention Evolves toward Selfless Transformations of Consciousness 373
  • James H. Austin
  • 16 Training Effortless Attention 409
  • Michael I. Posner, Mary K. Rothbart, M. R. Rueda, and Yiyuan Tang
  • Contributors 425
  • Index 429


“Different from the traditional textbooks on attention and even from the majority of anthologies...informative....attention is a vibrant field. I'm not sure that reading the book is accompanied by flow, but it is worth the effort.”—American Journal of Psychology
“What is unusual and valuable about this book is the breadth....especially valuable for researchers who want to broaden their horizons and think about further philosophical, experimental, or practical implications of their research. The quality of the chapters is generally high....The editor has succeeded in putting the phenomenon of effortless-attention on the interdisciplinary research agenda.”—Quarterly Review of Biology


“A challenge to the naïve but prevailing notion of a central executive, somewhere in the frontal lobe or its vicinity, dishing out the orders to the rest of the brain and controlling every cognitive function, from attention on up. Evidently, cognitive functions, notably attention, can operate efficiently and effortlessly on the margins of consciousness. Attention and performance are inextricable from the perception-action cycle, where there is no true causal origin and consciousness is merely a phenomenon—and in fact can be an impediment. The evidence presented in Effortless Attention makes ample room for priming, intuition, gut-feeling, automatism, and other hidden but very real unconscious brain powers behind decision-making and the pursuit of goals.”
Joaquín M. Fuster, Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, author of The Prefrontal Cortex
“The chapters in Bruya’s book represent an extraordinary breadth and diversity of approaches to the study of control of thought, word, and deed. The ideas presented in this volume are grounded in historical approaches to attention and yet they benefit from the most modern work in cognitive and neuroscience. This book should be on the shelf of every serious student of how the mind works.”
Randall W. Engle, Editor, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Georgia Institute of Technology