Attention

Attention

In this article we are going to explore the topic of attention by understanding the cognitive processes involved and the many theories surrounding this.

Cognition is a complex and multi-faceted aspect of Psychology. We gain an insight into the complexities of cognition by examining when it fails…

INFORMATION PROCESSING APPROACH
  • 1950s: Cognitive psychology revolution
  • Brain as a computer
    • Assumptions:– Sensory input e.g. Light reflected off an apple (data/information)
    • Processed in serial/ parallel e.g.“apple”
    • Results in action e.g. Eat the apple
  • Approach informed:
    • Experimental cognitive psychology
    • Cognitive neuropsychology
    • Cognitive neuroscience
    • Computational cognitive science

Attention process

WHAT IS ATTENTION?

“Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought … It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others”

William James (1890)

SELECTIVE ATTENTION

Early studies of attention were based on consciousness and introspectionism until the rise of behaviourism. William James (1890) definition is very useful. ‘My experience is what I agree to attend to’. Things you focus on are represented more strongly and consciously. Unattended details are not represented.

MODELS OF ATTENTION

AttentionProcess Models:

  • Multiple sensory inputs show some form of filtering by attention
  • Single-attended channel
DICHOTIC LISTENING

Attention

Colin Cherry (1953)

  • Selective Auditory Attention
  • Different audio to each ear
  • Instructed to report audio from one ear
  • Cannot recall the audio from the unattended ear

* Audio is useful for attention research as there are two competing channels!

BROADBENT’S (1958) FILTER THEORY

Attention

The filter model proposes that:

  • a bottleneck occurs before perception and
  • attention determines what information is perceived

This model asserts that:

  • the selective filter allows information to come
  • into short-term memory one channel at a time
ASSUMPTIONS
  • Multiple messages presented simultaneously gain access in parallel to a sensory register
  • One of the inputs is then allowed through a filter on the basis of its physical characteristics, with the other input remaining in the buffer for later processing
  • This filter is necessary to prevent overloading of a limited capacity mechanism
BROADBENT’S CONCLUSION

Accounts for the findings of Cherry (1953) dichotic listening experiments.

Only gross changes in physical characteristics of the unattended stimuli were noticed e.g. if gender of voice changed.

Unattended information is filtered at a basic perceptual level  i.e. the so-called ‘early selection’ stage.

PROBLEMS WITH BROADBENT’S MODEL

Attention

The Cocktail party effect

We can attend to one conversation in a noisy room but still notice a meaningful event in the background!

  • Name (Moray, 1959)
  • Swear words

Process meaning in unattended channel.

PROBLEM’S WITH EARLY SELECTION

Von Wrightetal (1975) paired certain words with electric shocks

  • The words caused a fear response on their own due to conditioning.
  • Fear response = Galvanic Skin response (GSR)
Dichotic listening

Conditioned words in the ignored ear still produced GSR response even without awareness. Broadbent’s model filters too early as some meaning is processed in unattended channel!

TREISMAN’S ATTENUATOR MODEL (1964)

Attention

Attenuator weakens unattended channel and drops strength below threshold of awareness. But it’s meaning can still be perceived if the sound is physically distinct, e.g. Male/female voice

  • Personally important, e.g. name
  • Conditioned, e.g. Shock words
CHERRY VS TREISMAN

Cherry showed listeners couldn’t report the meaning of the unattended channel, whereas Treisman showed some listeners knew the meaning of the unattended channel.

The difference is due to Cherry’s experiment having a delayed report; there was a gap between the message and the report stage. Whereas Treisman’s ‘shadowing’ experiment had an instant report of results.

Treisman says meaning from unattended channel only lasts a few seconds, so meaning was already lost by the time Cherry probed memory.

CRITIQUE OF TRAINMAN’S ATTENUATOR MODEL

Attention

Deutsch & Deutsch (1963) state Treisman’s model uses both early and late filtering. Why have both if the same effect can be served by late filtering only?

ASSUMPTIONS
  • Location of bottleneck much closer to response end of processing
  • All stimuli are fully analysed at the semantic level with only the most important or relevant inputs selected for response
  • Non attended inputs will be detected only if their relevance exceeds the relevance of attended inputs.
COMPARING MODELS

Attention

Broadbent (1958) Filter Theory
  • Selection is based on physical characteristics. The filter is all or none. What is not selected is tuned out completely.
  • Only superficial features of unattended message are reportable.
Treisman (1964) Attenuation Theory (MOST EVIDENCE)
  • Pre-attentive analysis is much more complex and may consist of semantic processing.
  • Unshadowed message is attenuated rather than filtered out.
Deutsch & Deutsch (1963) Late Selection Theory
  • No capacity limitations in perception; all information is processed completely -bottleneck arises in response

No single model of attention currently dominates!

Read next: ‘How do we store memories?

You May Also Like

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *