Chapter 4

Chapter 4 - Chapter 4: The Varieties of Attention Summary...

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Chapter 4: The Varieties of Attention Summary This chapter introduces the topic of attention. Attention does not refer to a single process, but rather to a variety of processes and methods for studying the environment. Specific aspects of attention that will be addressed in this chapter are selecting stimuli to attend to, selecting stimuli to ignore, involuntary attention, attempting to attend to more than one thing at a time, switching our attention between tasks, and the possibility of perceiving without attention or awareness. As Broadbent demonstrated with his dichotic listening tasks , people have the ability to attend to important information, all the while ignoring irrelevant information ( selective attention , cocktail party phenomenon ). His filter theory explained this aptitude by the fact that trivial information is prevented from being extensively processed ( early selection ). However, a debate arose when other experiments, such as the Stroop task , revealed the possibility of both irrelevant information being processed extensively ( late selection ) and even sometimes being perceived, and individuals actively ignoring irrelevant stimuli in order to process relevant ones. The Stroop task also brought up the debated regarding controlled (voluntary) versus automatic (involuntary) processes . Sometimes, contrary to one’s intentions, peoples’ attention is grabbed by powerful or important stimuli ( attention capture ); in other cases, individuals fail to attend to noticeable stimuli ( inattentional blindness , déjà vu ). This raises the question of the limits to attention. Many different views of how our attention is limited have been offered. The capacity model views attention as a limited resource—like a ‘power supply’—that must be shared by concurrent tasks. Others views limits of attention as structural limits so that if two skills require the same kind of processing, they will interfere with attention more than if they had required different kinds of processing. Similarly, some view attentional limits as a central bottleneck that can only process one task at a time. There is also the view that people can simply develop the ability to pay attention to more than one thing at a time ( divided attention ). Task switching describes how people perform more than one task concurrently by switching their attention from one task to other. This switching of attention can disrupt performance on tasks, which results in switch costs . There are several ways in which information can be selected and transformed into mental representations. For instance, it has been argued that 1
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encoding is done mostly in an automatic, unconscious way. Also, that it is done in a fast manner and along various dimensions at the same time (multi- dimensional encoding). An example of fast and unconscious encoding is the subliminal perception phenomenon. This, as in the case of backward masking or attentional blink effects, often involves the semantics of the stimuli. One of the strategies that attempt to demonstrate the legitimacy of
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This note was uploaded on 02/16/2011 for the course PSYC 213 taught by Professor Levitin during the Winter '08 term at McGill.

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Chapter 4 - Chapter 4: The Varieties of Attention Summary...

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