There is a class of error that is sometimes colloquially referred to as "not paying attention". These are the sorts of error where the subject knows the correct way to perform a task, but fails to follow it due to a lapse in whatever mental process is responsible for ensuring that actions are carried out according to intention.
Some examples are:
- A mathematically competent adult solving an advanced math problem incorrectly because of a simple arithmetic mistake, such as 5+3=15.
- A well-prepared student getting a multiple choice question wrong because it was asking "which of the above are not true", but she mistakenly selected the ones that are true.
- A skilled roboticist damaging an expensive circuit because he accidentally wired the components incorrectly.
- Mixing up two terms which refer to different things, despite understanding very well the concept that either term refers to.
- Typos and simple grammar errors.
Note that I do not necessarily mean attention in the sense of being able to concentrate on and pay attention to a topic. I am specifically talking about the ability to not make mistakes (where mistakes are simple errors, which the subject is capable of recognizing as errors, but happens not to in that particular instance - not errors committed because of imperfect knowledge, understanding, or reasoning). Thus, "mistakes" are:
- Not reproducible: If the subject is asked to repeat the task, they will probably do it correctly.
- Unrecognized: The subject believes that the task was completed correctly, until explicitly checked.
- Paradoxical: If asked about how the task should be performed, the subject answers correctly - but occasionally fails to perform as described.
- Mental: The mistake is not due to failures in fine motor control but has to do with the output of the mind. The mistake may be due to incorrect interpretation of sensory stimulus, but not due to an overt corruption of the stimulus itself (a person with good vision "misreading a word" in a brightly lit room from a black on white page with a suitably large font counts, but trying to read by starlight on a moonless light doesn't).
So, my question: Is there scientific research dealing with "attention" in this sense (ability to make few mistakes)? What factors influence it? Can it be trained, or is it an innate, invariant quality of a person that can only be accepted and accommodated?
Also, I am asking specifically about "healthy and normal adults", not disorders such as ADHD (unless the pathology helps elucidate the healthy case). As the saying goes, to err is human - but some humans err more than others, and I am interested in understanding why (and what strategies are available to reduce this tendency).
(edited from my original question on Academia.SE)