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The 3 differences between mental absence and temporary lacuna

The 3 differences between mental absence and temporary lacuna

June 11, 2024

We are preoccupied with a report that we have not finished and we start eating from the bag of snacks that we had next to the computer, and then we are not sure of exactly what or when we have done it. We left our house and arrived at the workplace, and although we know that we have gone there, we are not aware of how we have arrived.

We are not talking about some kind of amnesia, since we really know what we were doing. We just were not attending to what we were doing: we have experienced a mental absence in the first case, and a temporary gap in the second . They are similar phenomena, but it is convenient not to confuse them. Let's see what they are.


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The attention

Defining and delimiting the concept of attention is relatively complex, given its close connection with other mental capacities such as consciousness and memory. In general, we understand attention to that capacity that allows us to be able to select, orient ourselves, focus and blur our cognitive resources in such a way that they allow us to obtain information about the environment and about our own behavior, so that we can adapt to the environment.

It also allows us filter the stimuli that we perceive and focus on the most important elements, avoiding distractions and not devoting mental resources to unnecessary details. Our attentional capacity varies based on different circumstances such as the level of activation, motivation, emotion and cognition, as well as other environmental and even biological variables.


In some cases, our attention capacity can be altered, presenting phenomena such as mental absence and temporary lacuna.

  • Related article: "The 15 types of attention and what are their characteristics"

Mental absence as alteration of attention

It is called mental absence to the phenomenon by which our attention capacity focuses and concentrates totally on the own thoughts or on a specific stimulus or task, in such a way that stimuli outside of them are unattended. A) Yes, do not we process the information of the medium as we would normally do despite the fact that the ability to do so is still intact, acting automatically.

This is what happens when we are absorbed looking and thinking something, although we can be doing other tasks. In fact, it can be related to the concept of "state of Flow" used by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to define the mental state in which we enter to perform tasks that we passion and present the right degree of difficulty.


Mental absence It makes it difficult for us to respond adaptively to external stimulation . However, this absence is broken if the subject is made to disconnect from his thoughts or from the element in which he is fully concentrated causing the external stimulation to increase, as for example if someone calls us or an unexpected noise or light appears.

The temporary lagoon

A phenomenon that in principle may seem similar to the previous one and that is also an alteration of attention is the temporal gap. However, these are different phenomena.

The temporary lagoon is based largely on the automation of tasks that we carry out: it is considered temporary gap to that phenomenon that occurs when we are doing some kind of activity more or less automated (especially if it is repetitive, easy or does not motivate and awakens us emotionality) without appearing during its realization remarkable stimuli that mobilize our attention and can be used to record time.

On the other hand, the temporary gap ends when we have to reprocess information actively. The absence of something that sets the time makes us later that we are not able to remember exactly what happened during the time elapsed. For example, if we work in a factory or drive to our home we do everything so automatic that at one point we do not know what we have done.

Differences between temporal gap and mental asusence

Both concepts may seem very similar, but in reality it's about different mental alterations . The main similarity occurs in that in both cases the subject loses information due to alterations of attentional type, deriving concretely from this understood as capacity for concentration.

But the differences between the mental absence and the temporary gap are also perceptible . As regards mental absence, it occurs when we are paying maximum attention to something and we lose information unrelated to it, but if they ask us if we know what we were dealing with. You are more aware of what we have done.

In the temporary lagoon you have a feeling of memory loss (although we must remember that it is not an amnesia but a phenomenon related to attention), not being able to directly determine what has happened during a period of time (the gap itself). It does not have to be a cause of failures in the functioning of brain structures involved in memory, such as the hippocampus.

Thus, the differences between mental absence and temporal lacuna are:

1. Focusing or not on the stimulus

In the mental absence the alteration occurs because we direct all our attention to a very specific type of information, disregarding the rest. In the temporary lagoon there is not this type of targeting.

2. The degree of automation

The temporary gap occurs when we perform simple and repetitive actions, or that do not require us to concentrate on them. For example, walk to our usual workplace.

The opposite occurs in the case of mental absence, based on our way of concentrating on an interesting and complex task .

3. The feeling of memory loss

In mental absence you do not have the sensation of not remembering relevant aspects, but this usually happens in the temporal gap.

Appearance context: is it pathological?

Although they can be considered and are classified as anomalies or alterations of attention, or mental absence nor the temporal gap are themselves a pathological phenomenon .

Despite this, they can appear more frequently in different disorders or conditions, especially in the case of mental absence. It appears in disorders such as epilepsy, some food poisonings or psychoactive substances or after cerebrovascular accidents or traumatic brain injuries in which neuronal damage occurs in the nuclei that govern attention.

Some mental disorders in which they can appear frequently are ADHD, autism or in other disorders such as depression or OCD. Also in disorders such as epilepsy and dementia and in situations such as sleep deprivation, alterations of consciousness or intense hunger.

Bibliographic references:

  • Belloch, A .; Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2008), Manual of Psychopathology, Volume I. Madrid, McGraw-Hill.

How to get back to work after a career break | Carol Fishman Cohen (June 2024).


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