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Chapter 4

chapter 4- paying attention

Course Code
Gabriela Ilie

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PSYB57- Chapter 4- Paying attention
Selective attention- we usually focus our attention on one or a few tasks or events at
any given time
Divided attention- a person can do another task simultaneously with an automatic
Spatial attention- attention can be focused on objects and events of interest in our
environment in order to aid in our ability to recognize them amongst other events
and objects
William James argued that only one system or process of conception can go at a time
very easily; to do 3 or more things at once required that the processes be habitual
Selective attention
We focus on one or a few tasks rather than many; we shut out competing tasks. We
process information differently depending on whether or not we have been actively
focusing on a stimulus
Dichotic listening task- a person listens to audiotapes over headphones; there are
2 different recordings on each tape while they are played together. Participants are
asked to repeat aloud one of the messages being played. Information is presented at
a rapid rate. At the end of the task the participants are asked what they remember
from either message. The person must concentrate on the message to be shadowed,
which requires a lot of mental resources. Thus, fewer mental resources are available
to process information from the non-shadowed, unattended message
Participants could not recall the content of the unattended message or the language
in which it was spoken. Even when the language was changed the participants could
not notice the change in the unattended message
Filter theory
States that there are limits on how much information a person can attend to at any
given time. The person uses an attentional filter to let some information through
and block the rest. The filter is based on some physical aspect of the attended
message: the location of its source or its typical pitch or loudness. Only material that
gets past the filter can be analyzed later for meaning. The filter selects information
for later processing

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This theory explains why so little of the meaning of the unattended message can be
recalled. The meaning from an unattended message is simply not processed.
Attentional filter is set to make a selection of what message to process early,
typically before the meaning of the message is identified. It should not be possible to
recall any of the meaning of an unattended message, according to this model.
2 messages that contain little information or that present information slowly can be
processed together. In contrast, messages that present a great deal of information
quickly overcome the filter; fewer of them can be attended to at once
Thus, the filter protects us from information overload by shutting out messages
when we hear too much information to process all at once
Other research has shown opposite effects from the filter theory; ex. The cocktail
party effect: shadowing performance is disrupted when ones own name is embedded
in either the attended or the unattended message. Also the person hears and
remembers hearing their name
Filter theory predicts that ALL unattended messages will be filtered out, which is
why participants in the dichotic listening task can recall little information about
such messages
The cocktail party effect shows something completely different: people sometimes do
hear their own name in an unattended message or conversation and hearing their
name will cause them to switch their attention to the previously unattended
Moray concluded that only important material can penetrate through the filter and
hearing ones name is important. But what is left unanswered is how does the filter
know what is important
However, participants didnt always hear their name in the unattended message
Wood and Cowan experiment: 2 groups engaged in the dichotic listening task were
presented one message in the attended channel (right ear) and another message in
the unattended ear (left ear). After 5 mins, the speech in the unattended channel
was turned backwards for 30 seconds. The 2 groups differed only in how long the
normal speech was presented after the backward speech. They first asked whether
the people who noticed the backward speech in the unattended message showed a
disruption in their shadowing of the attended message. In other words, did this
processing have a cost to their performance on the main task? Yes it did. The
percentage if errors rose during the 30 seconds backward speech. Control

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participants who did not hear the backward speech showed no errors in their
shadowing nor did most of the participants who did not report noticing the backward
What caused the shift in attention to the backward speech? Wood and Cowan
analyzed shadowing errors by 5 second intervals for the 30 seconds preceding,
during and after the backward speech segment (for groups who were presented with
backward speech). These findings show that control participants and participants
who did not notice the backward speech made no more errors over the time studied.
However, participants who did report hearing backward speech made more errors,
which peaked 10 to 20 seconds after the backward speech began
They concluded that the attentional shift to the unattended message was
unintentional and completed without awareness
Participants who noticed the backward speech had their attention captured by the
backward speech which led to poorer performance on the main shadowing task
Other researchers showed that participants who detect their name in the
unattended message are those who have a lower working memory span
20% of participants with high working memory spans detected their names in the
unattended channel
A lower working memory capacity means less ability to actively block the unattended
message; people with low working memory span are less able to focus
Attenuation theory
Anne Treisman proposed a modified filter theory called the attenuation theory.
Instead of considering unattended messages completely blocked before they could be
processed for meaning (as in filter theory), Triesman argued that their volume was
turned down. In other words, some meaningful information in unattended messages
might still be available even if hard to recover
Incoming messages are subjected to 3 kinds of analysis. 1) The messages physical
properties, such as pitch and loudness, are analyzed. 2) analysis is linguistic,
processing the message into syllables and words. 3) semantic analysis, processing
the meaning of the message
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