Selective Attention- refers to the fact that we usually focus our attention on one or a few tasks
or events rather than on many.
Hal Pashler (1998)- "At any given moment, people's awareness encompasses only a tiny
proportion of the stimuli impinging on their sensory systems".
Dichotic listening task- a task in which a person hears two or more different, specially
recorded messages over earphones and is asked t attend to one of them.
Cherry (1953)- Used this study to demonstrate that people can pick up small details about
the unattended messages. For example, later they could discern whether it was a random
noise or a voice. If it was speech they could tell if it was a man or a woman. If the speech
was played backward they would describe something odd about the unattended audio.
Filter Theory- proposed by (1958)- states that there are limits on how much information a
person attend to at any given time. The person will use an attention filter if the
information available exceeds the capacity.
o Moray (1959)- discovered the "Cocktail party effect" in which shadowing
performance is disrupted when one's own name is embedded in either the attended
or the unattended message. Moray concluded that only important material can
penetrate the filter.
o Treisman (1960)- performed a similar experiment with two sets of information and
asked to shadow one. In the middle the messages switch ears; may participants
repeated a few words from the unattended ear. Participants must be basing their
selection of which message to attend to at least in part on the meaning of the
o Wood and Cowan (1995)- Dichotic listening task with the unattended message
played backward for 30 seconds then followed by either 2.5 minutes or 1.5 minutes
of normal speech; there was also a control group with no backward speech.
Made most errors during the 30 seconds.
Those who noticed the change tended to make more errors during the time
The control group made no errors.
They concluded the attentional shift was unintentional and done without
awareness. Their attention was capture by the backward speech, hindering
o Conway, Cowan, Bunting (2001)- those who detect their name in the unattended
message are those who have a lower working memory span. This lower span results
in less ability to actively block the unattended message.
Attenuation Theory- developed by Treisman; the volume of the unattended information
is turned down so important information can still be pulled out.
There are three steps to processing incoming information:
1. Physical properties such as pitch.
2. Linguistic 3. Semantic analysis
Important information such as your name has a lower threshold of mental effort
required to process it. Also, primed words are more likely to be pulled out of the
unattended message if they fit with the rest of the attended message.
o Pashler (1998)- the above phenomena is diminished if multiple words are in the
Late-Selection Theory- Developed by Deutsch and Deutsch and later added to by Norman;
all channels of information are regularly check upon for meaning and the channel to
attend to is decided later in processing.
o Filter theory proposes a bottleneck (the filter) while late-selection theory merely
relocated this bottleneck.
Pashler (1998) agrees most evidence support the idea that some unattended
information gets processed, but this can easily be explained by attentional lapses or
special cases of important stimuli.
Attention Capacity and Mental Effort
o Daniel Kahneman (1973)-viewed attention as a set of processes for categorizing and
recognizing stimuli. The more complex a stimulus, the more mental effort required
to process it.
o The amount of mental effort available (or ability to allocate attention) is greatly
dependent on alertness.
o Some performance is data limited, meaning that despite all effort put in, you will not
be able to detect a stimulus. The performance depends on the quality of the
Schema Theory- developed by Ulric Neisser (1976); suggest that unattended information
is simply ignored and not process, similar to deciding to leave a particular apple on a tree
when apple picking.
o Neisser and Becklin performed a study of visual attention with two visual
superimposed displays in which participants were expected to follow the event of
one display and indicate when a certain task was done. Participants easily focussed
on one firm and ignored unexpected events in the unattended visual presentation.
This suggests that it is a skilled process in which current perception guides what you
will continue to perceive.
Inattentional Blindness- missing an obvious stimulus unless focussed on it.
o Daniel Simons- the study of a basketball game being watched and participants were
asked to report the amount of passes performed by either the white team or black
team. Most people miss a person who walks through wearing a Gorilla suit.
However, participants asked to watch the team wearing black were more likely to
report seeing the Gorilla.
Neuroscientific Studies of Attention Cognitive neuroscientists are interested in examining which areas of our brain are active
when we attend to a stimulus or event.
o Hemineglect occurs with damage to parietal lobe. This is attentional not sensory.
Networks of Visual Attention
Three networks of visual attention according to Posner and Raichle (1994). They
performed a study in which a participant was seated in front of a display with a fixation
point between two boxes. A box will light up or an arrow will direct the participant's
attention to the source of the upcoming stimulus. The cue is sometimes incorrect or not
given at all. They must indicate the moment they detect the stimulus.
o Three distinct operations include disengaging the attention from the original spot,
moving the focus to a new spot, and enhancing or emphasizing the new location.
Barkley (1998)- those with ADHD don't struggle to be alert, but rather have an inability to
commit mental resources to tedious tasks.
Logan, Schachar, Tannock (2000)- ADHD is actually due to an inability to inhibit and
ongoing response when asked to do work.
1. Alerting Network- frontal and parietal lobes of right hemisp