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Chapter 4

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McGill University
PSYC 213
Jelena Ristic

CHAPTER 4: THE VARIETIES OF ATTENTION 4.1 James’ Description of Attention - William James: Leading American psychologist of the 20 th o Wrote Principles of Psychology containing a chapter on attention o Claimed attention is ‘taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought…’ st - Pashler, contemporary cognitive psychologist of 21 , claims that no one knows what attention is and it may not even exist - We now believe that attention refers to a variety of possible processes and methods for studying them 4.2 Selective Attention - Broadbent used dichotic listening o Dichotic listening: Participants are exposed to two verbal messages at the same time and are asked to answer questions regarding one of them o Once told which voice contained the required information, participants were proficient in selective attention (select relevant information and ignore irrelevant information) - Cherry studied the ability to attend to a message while ignoring another by using a shadowed task (exposing participant to two messages simultaneously while repeating one of them) o Participant wore headphones one message delivered in left ear and another delivered in right ear; participant shadowed one message by repeating it as it was heard o There must be a filter (stage of information processing that admits some messages but blocks others) - Neisser and Becklen used a selective looking o Selective looking: Visual analogue to dichotic listening where subject is exposed to two events simultaneously, but attends only to one o Found that people were able to attend to either sequence - Early selection: Hypothesis that attention prevents early perceptual processing of distractors o Supported by dichotic listening and selective looking - Late selection: Hypothesis that both relevant and irrelevant stimuli are perceived, therefore one must ignore the irrelevant stimuli to focus on the relevant ones o Supported by the Stroop task 4.2.1 The Stroop Task - Stroop task: A list of colour names, each of which is printed in a colour other than its name o Tendency to read the names interfere with the attempt to name the colours o Incongruent condition: ‘red’ is printed in green and participant’s task is to name the colour in which the word is printed o Control condition: XXX are printed in green and participant must name the colour in which the letters are printed - Incongruent condition takes more time than control condition - Used to demonstrate controlled versus automatic processes o Controlled process: We must pay attention to it in order to execute it properly; top-bottom; goal-directed; voluntary o Automatic process: Runs itself without the necessity of our paying attention to it; autonomous; bottom-up; stimulus-driven; involuntary - Stroop phenomenon can be investigated via hypnosis o Raz and co. found that highly suggestible participants (more susceptible to hypnosis) did not show the typical Stroop effect, although less suggestible participants did o Reading of words could be suppressed in high suggestible participants, allowing them to easily name the colour in which the word is printed  Cognitive processes normally considered to be automatic (ex: word reading) are susceptible to ‘top-down influences exerted by suggestion at the neural level’ (ex: hypnosis) - PET and fMRI studies have to examine brain processes underlying Stroop test performance o Compare blood flow to different brain regions during performance in incongruent or control conditions o Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC): Area of the brain that may exert a top-down bias that favours the selection of task-relevant information; found at top, outside part of the front of frontal lobes o Anterior cingulated cortex (ACC): Area of the brain that may detect conflicting response tendencies; front and arch-shaped (cingulated)  Increased ACC activity may be accompanied with awareness of conflicting response tendencies  Its précis role may change depending on the task  Should be considered as a part of a network responsible for attentional control 4.2.2 Attention Capture and Inattentional Blindness - Attention capture: Stimuli elicits attention in spite of the fact that we did not intend to pay attention to them o Ex: Turning around when you hear someone say your name - Inattentional blindness: Failure to attend to events that we might be expected to notice o Opposite of attention capture o Ex: Accidents are often due to inattentional blindness - Mack and Rock used asymmetrical crosses to study inattentional blindness o Participants judges the relative lengths of the cross and may fail to detect the black square in one of the quadrants - Flanker task: Experiment in which participants may be influenced by an irrelevant stimulus beside the target - Lavie provided used the Flanker task to show that among different types of stimuli, faces are the one that attract the most attention o Congruent (matching) condition: Search Clinton’s name while his picture is shown o Incongruent condition: Search MJ’s name while Clinton’s picture shown  Take longer than congruent conditions, meaning Clinton’s face interfered with reaction time o We attend to faces involuntarily even when our goal is to ignore them - Downing and co. found that human silhouettes we also attended to even when they were suppose to be ignored o Suggested there may be domain-specific modules in the brain that may be specialized for specific tasks, such as recognizing faces  However it is possible that such modules are not innate, but that over time we gain expertise in dealing with particular categories of stimuli - Mack and co. suggested that highly meaningful stimuli can capture our attention o Ex: Baby’s cry waking the mother 4.3 Dual Tasks and the Limits of Attention - How many things can we attend to at one? - Capacity model: Hypothesis that attention is like a power supply that can only support a limited amount of attentional activity - Structural limits: Hypothesis that attentional tasks interfere with one another to the extent that they share similar activities o Interference between tasks is more likely to occur when they share the same processing (e.g. both visual or both verbal) - Central bottleneck (processor): Hypothesis that information relevant to only one task at a time can pass o Doing two things at once requires to alternate your attention between the two tasks and selectively attend to one task at a time o If we can learn to do this, then we have mastered divided attention (attending to more than one thing at a time)  Study of divided attention conducted by Spelke and co. and found that people will often make inferences on the basis of what they hear; often falsely recognize these inferences as being sentences they actually hear o Used mapping a set of stimuli onto a set of responses to determine if the bottleneck still exists in highly practised tasks  Found that central bottleneck could be overcome by practice  However, Ruthruff and co. found that a ‘latent’ bottleneck can exist for highly practised tasks 4.4 Task Switching - Set: Temporary, top-down organization that facilitate some responses, while inhibiting others, in order to achieve goals - Woodworth stated that there are different types of sets: o Preparatory that are used by sprinters while at the starting line o Executive that guide the organism through a sequence of responses such as when you drive a car o Goal sets - Task switching: People have to change from working on one task to working on another o Studied in situations in which switch is involuntary o Switch cost: Performance on a task after a switch is worse than typical
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