‘Everyone knows what attention is, it is the taking possession by the mind of, in clear and
vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thoughts. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It implies
withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others’ (James, 1890, p. 409).
As James elegantly points out in order to fully experience situations one must have thecapacity to divide their attention. Humans are very good at this; we constantly manageseveral things simultaneously. An every-day example is language, as speakers must keep
track of both their own behaviour and other’s behaviour, splitting their attention among
several channels, often at very high speeds (Donald, 2002). However, it seems that ourcapacity to multi-task is dependent on the difficulty of each task. For example a well-learned
task such as walking, requires little effort and doesn’t inhibit our performance on another
task. However, if the task was more novel i.e. walking along a high narrow ledge then it mayprove more difficult and may impede performance on another task i.e. holding a conversationwith someone (Norman, 1976). Therefore in novel and complex situations it is more difficultto divide our attention.The question then becomes, how do individuals select what to attend in novel situations?
Selective attention involves individual’s propensity to orient themselves towards, or process
information, from only one part of the environment resulting in the exclusion of other parts. Ithas been theorised that selective attention is governed by arousal (Eysenck, 1982). Arousal
can be explained as general drives that maintain an individual’s ability to exert
mental effortand to perceive events (Solso, 2001). It has been argued that arousal can have the effect of improving recognition capacity as the primary cognitive function of arousal is to maintain an
individual’s ability to perceive events and to initiate the attentional process. However,