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Selective Attention

Stages of Cognitive Processing
Attention: Active & Passive
 Attention is the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on
one aspect of the environment while ignoring other things.

 William James

 Active attention

 Controlled by the individual’s goals and expectations.

 Passive attention

 Controlled by external stimuli such as a loud noise.



Divided Focused
Attention Attention

Task Task
Similarity Difficulty Practice Auditory Visual
Types of Attention: Selective (Focused) Attention
 Presents people with two or more stimulus inputs at the same time
and instructs them to respond only to one.

 Shows us how effectively select certain inputs rather than others.

 It enables us to study the nature of the selection process and the fate
of unattended stimuli.
Types of Attention: Divided Attention
 Studied by presenting at least two stimulus inputs at the same time but
with instructions to attend and respond to all stimulus inputs.

 Studies of divided attention provide useful information about an

individual’s processing limits.
Focused Auditory Attention: Cocktail Party Problem
(Cherry, 1953)
 People are able to follow just one conversation when several
people are talking.
 This ability involves using physical differences to maintain
attention to a chosen auditory message:
 Sex of the speaker, voice intensity, speaker location
Focused Auditory Attention: Dichotic Listening Task
 Cherry’s Experiment:

 To examine whether people can follow two tasks concurrently.

 A dichotic listening task was used

 People presented with two different messages to both ears and one auditory
message has to be shadowed (repeated back out loud).
Focused Auditory Attention: Dichotic Listening Task
Focused Auditory Attention: (Cherry, 1953)
Experiment 1

Cherry presented two messages in the same voice to both ears

at the same time (eliminated physical differences).


Listerners found it very hard to separate the two messages on

the basis of meaning alone.
Focused Auditory Attention: (Cherry, 1953)
Experiment 2

 Participants required to shadow only one message

 Result:

 Very little information was extracted from the non attended message.
For example, they did not notice a change in langauge.

 Conclusion:

 Unattended auditory information receives no processing since there

was no memory for the unattended words even when presented 35
Broadbent (1958)
 Three pairs of digits presented dichotically
 Three digits were heard one after the other by one ear, at the same
time the other three digits were presented to the other ear.
 It was found that participants choose to recall digits ear by ear rather
than pair by pair.
 Thus, if 496 were presented to the left ear
and 852 to the right, recall would be 496852
rather than 489562.
Broadbent’s Theory
 Two stimuli (messages) presented concurrently gain access in
parallel to a sensory buffer.

 One of the inputs is then allowed through a filter based on its

physical characteristics while the other message remains in the
buffer for later processing.

 This filter prevents overloading of the limited capacity

mechanism and proceses inputs for its meaning.
Broadbent’s Filter Theory
 Braodbent’s theory accounts for most of Cherry’s findings
 Unattended information is not processed.

 Degree of similarity
 When inputs are similar (words presented to both ears) only one or the
shadowed message is recalled

 When inputs are dissimilar (shadowed auditory message and visual pictures)
recall for pictures very good

 Early studies assumed that there was no processing of the meaning

of the unattended message
 Physical characteristics important to select message.
 In later studies:

 When someones name was mentioned in the unattended message

they reported hearing it.

 Gray and Wedderburn (1960):

 Found that when ‘6 who there’ is presented to one ear and ‘4 goes 1’
to the other, participants report: who goes there, or 4 6 1.

 This indicates that information can be processed on meaning

and is inconsistent with the filter model.
Treisman (1960)
 Sometimes participants said a word that was part of the
unattended message, although, only observed on 6% of trials.

 Treisman therefore developed another theory that was more

flexibale than broadbent’s theory.

 In her theory, stimulus analysis starts with physical cues,

patterns, words, grammer structure and ends with meaning.
Treisman’s Attenuation Theory
 Treisman: attention operates like an attenuator

 An attenuator is a switch that allows for differing amounts of energy to

pass through it, i.e., the volume control on the T.V.

 This model allows for the processing of more than one input at a

 Physical cues determine which stimuli receive more attention and are
processed further.

 The meaning of previously processed messages may also influence

the attenuator.
Treisman’s Attenuation Theory
Deutsch and Deutsch (1963) Theory
 All stimuli are fully analysed with the most important or relevant
stimulus determining the response.

 Complete perceptual analysis of messages to both ears.

 Only important inputs lead to response.

 i.e., if two taps are required for the shadowed words and one tap for
the non-shadowed words, then shadowed words are more important
and will be responded and will be recalled more.
Selective Attention Models
Focused Visual Attention
We may attend to:

 Area or region of space (e.g., looking behind you to identify the source
of a sound).

 A given object or objects.

Location-Based Attention
 Attention is directed to a region of the visual field.

 Resembles a spotlight:

 Everything within a small region of the visual field can be seen clearly
but all that is not under the attention spotlight is harder to see.

 Attention can be increased or decreased in line with task


 Goal directed behaviour-effort and attention.

Location-Based Attention
 An endogenous system:
 Controlled by the participant’s intentions, knowledge, expectations
 Voluntary, goal directed
 Top down processing

 An exogenous system:
 Automatically shifts attention, when we have unexpected cues e.g.,
 Involuntary, stimulus driven
 Bottom up processing
Object-Based Attention
 Visual attention is often directed to objects than region

 Evidence from Neglect Patients

 Participants presented with two stimuli (a face and a house), which

were overlapping. One was moving while the other was stationary.

 Participants were instructed to attend to either one of the objects.

 If attention was locased based, then participants would be attending

to both because both stimuli in the same location.

 Results showed that the objects were attended.

Three Attentional Abilities
1. Disengagement of attention from a given visual stimulus

2. Shifting of attention from one target stimulus to another

3. Enaging or lockıng attention on a new visual stimulus

Visual Search
 Visual search involves searching for and detecting a specified
target within a visual display as rapidly as possible
Feature Integration Theory
 Rapid parallel process of visual features

 Serial process of features are combied to form objects

 Features can be combined by focused attention

 Feature combination can be influenced by strored knowledge

 In the absence of focused attention or stored knowledge,

features are randomly combined.

 Illusions
Visual Search Time and Degree of Similarity
Guided Search Theory
 All basic features receive activation

 Searching for a red horizontal target, all features that are red
and horizontal are activated, the others are deactivated.

 Attention is then directed to ones that are most activated.

Stroop Effect
Stroop Effect
 Experiment 1:

 The task required participants to read written color names of the words
independently of the color of the ink (for example, they would have to
read "purple" no matter what the color of its ink was).

 Experiment 2:

 Participants were required to say the color of the letters independently

of the written word with the second kind of stimulus. If the word
"purple" was written in red, they would have to say "red", but not
Stroop Effect
 Results:

 Naming the color of the word does not take longer when the color of
the ink does not match the name of the word color.

 Naming the color of the ink takes longer when the color of the ink does
not match the name of the word color.
Stroop Effect
 Explanation:
 Such interference was explained by the automation of reading, where
the mind automatically determines the semantic meaning of the word
(it reads the word "red" and thinks of the color "red"), and then must
intentionally check itself and identify instead the color of the word (the
ink is a color other than red), a process that is not automatized.