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Psych Week 8.docx

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Joe Kim

Attention Intro:  Attention allows you to navigate through a crowded world brimming with information and distractions.  Without the ability to focus your limited processing resources, you wouldn’t be able to carry on a meaningful conversation, enjoy a piece of music, understand a joke or learn new things.  William James defines attention as, “Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind in the 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, and is a condition, which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed and scatterbrained state.  At the centre of the definition is Selection – attending to something causes the object of attention to be selected apart from the rest of the unattended objects. i.e. when you first put clothes on, you feel them touch your skin, but as the day goes by these stimuli fade into the background as other stimuli are competing for your attention.  Attention also refers to our conscious ability to attend to the information that is relevant to our goals. i.e. walking thru a grocery store you are actively selecting where to focus your attention.  We are remarkably adept at distinguishing the relevant from the irrelevant information in the environment. i.e. driving thru busy traffic becomes more difficult as you talk on the phone. Automatic and Controlled Attention  Automatic Processes- triggered involuntarily by external events and triggers the “capture” of attention. o Assumed to operate in fast, efficient and obligatory matter. o Recall from unit two on learning that some cues seem to be more noticeable and lead to stronger and quicker association with paired events – salience.  A salient piece of information is one that appears to naturally pop-out at you. i.e. loud signals and lights of emergency vehicle. o Second type of automatic process related to learning – driving a car is a learned motor skill involving many steps. After practice it is easy to operate a vehicle to the point where some people report to have “automatic driving experiences” where they plan to go one place but accidently end up somewhere else.  Controlled Processes- guide attention voluntarily and consciously to object of interest. o Assumed to require cognitive effort and therefore will operate more slowly. o Driving a car thru busy traffic - you consciously choose to pay attention to the many aspects of the environment to guide this goal-directed behavior. Here you are using flexible controlled processes involved in conscious attention as you choose when to make lane changes, speed up, slow down, and engage in a conversation or change the radio station. o Why do you turn down the radio while looking for a new address or when making an important driving decision?  This demonstrates that it’s difficult to consciously attend to many aspects of the task-environment at the same time because the resources for controlled processes are limited. The Spotlight Model  According to Mike Posner, there’s an analogous process to visual attention – just as a physical spotlight illuminates only part of the stage at a time, your attentional spotlight focuses on only part of the environment at a time. o Attention can be consciously directed across the visual scene as you look for your friend at the crowded after-party. o Attention can also be hijacked by unconscious processes that can quickly grab your attention so you can avoid an oncoming speeding car as you step off the sidewalk.  As your attention moves around your field of vision, objects falling within the spotlight are processes preferentially: you can respond to objects faster and with greater accuracy.  We can bring these questions to the lab to experimentally manipulate the attentional spotlight.  Example: as a subject, you are asked to fix your attention to the middle box on the screen. At some point, a target will appear in either the left or right box. It is your job to indicate the correct target location as quickly as possible. Just before the target appears, a potential target box briefly flashes. The flashing box serves as a cue for your attention. The target can then follow in either the cued or uncued location. One question that researchers using this paradigm are interested in is measuring the influence of the flashing cue on target detection time.  Consider the trials in which the target appears in the left box; we find the target detection is quicker when it is correctly cued then uncued.  The set-up of this experiment suggests that this difference in target detection is governed by automatic rather than the conscious control of attention.  Set up the experiment so that the attentional cue does provide accurate predictive information about where the target is likely to occur, the target appears in the cued location more than 50% of the time.  Researchers may very the predictability of cues, to study consciously controlled shifts of attention. Under many circumstances, consciously controlled shifts of attention can lead to faster responses to targets that appear in the location indicated by the cue than to targets that appear opposite the location indicated
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