Nideffer, Robert - Attentional Personal Style

The Structure of Concern Project compares many theoretical models from many disciplines to the Adizes PAEI model, arguing that they must all be reflecting the same underlying phenomenon. One concern structure model is described below.

The Theory of Attentional and Personal Style was developed by Robert Nideffer in the field of sport psychology (Nideffer, 1976a). It is used primarily in the analysis and training of athletic behavior, specifically attentional focus and concentration. In this model, two dimensions of attention are recognized: width (broad to narrow) and direction (external to internal).

A broad scope of attention takes in many items at once, and would be appropriate for a footballer charging up a busy field. The typical focus of a narrow attentional scope would be limited to one thing or a small number of things. A baseball player at bat ready to swing would benefit from maintaining a narrow focus.

Internally-focused attention dwells upon the person’s own thoughts and feelings. A high-jumper preparing to jump by mentally rehearsing would have this internal focus. By comparison, a goalie in a hockey game watching the opposing team draw near would certainly shift to a strong external attentional focus.

Nideffer crosses these two dimensions, yielding four attentional styles as follows:

P – Narrow + External: Focused
A – Narrow + Internal: Systematic
E – Broad + Internal: Strategic
I – Broad + External: Aware

The Focused style (narrow-external) is the primary control style. It is used whenever a task is actually performed in real time, which clearly puts it in the P domain. The Systematic style (narrow-internal) is a rehearsal or preparatory-checklist style, and it also applies to systematic and conscious efforts to regulate one's inner state and arousal levels. These are A-type processes of anticipatory or retrograde control. Broad-internal or Strategic attention involves analyzing patterns over time to develop useful strategies or plans for the future. These cognitive processes (strategic orientation) and time frames (long-term, future-oriented) fit the E profile. Broad-external awareness requires sensitive attention to the total situation. Limbic and cortical responsiveness must both be engaged for quick and labile responses to dynamic circumstances. In survival situations this preserves life, in sport it helps one's team avoid traps and seize opportunities and in social settings it alerts one to any sign of defection or conflict in the room (Nideffer, 1976b).

Across the various stages of athletic training and performance, all of these styles of concentration will be needed for one purpose or another. Specific forms of concentration may be more heavily implicated than others during actual competition, according to the sport. Furthermore, people will tend to have a preferred style of attending, which they may use a their default state (2). Most people can switch attentional styles smoothly, but it still helps competitive athletes to know about their preferred style and biases, compared to the demands of their sport. This will help them identify the kinds of effortful concentration they most need to apply.

Sport psychology is perhaps the quintessential P-style branch of psychology, so all four subdomains of Nideffer’s schema, are subsumed under a general P imperative. Sports psychology in general studies P-style mental processes, but there are PAEI aspects of these processes at finer levels of analysis.

1. Nideffer, R. M. (1976a). The Inner Athlete. New York: Thomas Crowell.
2. Nideffer, R. M. (1976b). “Test of attentional and interpersonal style.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34, 394-404.
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