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Critically discuss how theories and experimental data relating to attention, have been applied in two or more real life domains

Critically discuss how theories and experimental data relating to attention, have been applied in two or more real life domains

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Christina O'Sullivan. Originally submitted for Applied Psychology at University College Cork, with lecturer John Groeger in the category of Psychology
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Christina O'Sullivan. Originally submitted for Applied Psychology at University College Cork, with lecturer John Groeger in the category of Psychology

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
 
Critically discuss how theories and experimental data relating to attention, havebeen applied in two or more real life domains
 
Abstract:
This essay examines how theories and experimental data regarding attention havebeen applied to the areas of eyewitness processing with specific focus on the 'weapon focuseffect' and choking i.e. performance decrements under pressure. The essay questions howwhen individuals are presented with an array of competing stimuli how they choose whatstimuli to attend to. The essay argues that selective attention is governed by arousal. Itsuggests that arousal is necessary for attention to occur but excessive levels of arousal cancause the individual to be over-whelmed and this may narrow their attention. This is linked tothe Yerkes-Dodson effect (inverted U-Hypothesis) which stresses that arousal is onlybeneficial up to a point. It is also linked to Easterbrook's cue utilisation hypothesis (1959)which stipulates that as arousal increases to an above optimal level, the number of cuesutilised decreases. The arousal-attention relationship is discussed with relation to the 'weapon
focus effect'. ‘Weapon focus’ refers to the focalisation of a crime witness’s attention on aweapon, and the resultant decrease in the witness’s capacity to rememb
er other details of thecrime (Loftus, Loftus & Messo, 1987). The essay then examines the role of arousal in theweapon focus effect. It then considers the argument that is not an inherent quality of aweapon but instead stimulus novelty which causes the effect. However, the essay concludesthat stimulus novelty isn't an accurate explanation of the effect and that there are inherentqualities of weapon that cause certain emotions such as fear that are arousing. The essay thenexamines the role of inattentional blindness and the change blindness phenomenon in eyewitness processing. The second part of the essay looks at how the arousal and attentionrelationship effects performance under pressure, particularly sub-optimal performance underpressure i.e. choking. Attentional theories offer the most complete explanation of choking. Itis theorised that high levels of arousal created by the pressurised situation leads to shifts inattention. There are two theories as to how this interaction between arousal and attentionoccurs
 — 
distraction theory and explicit monitoring theory. Distraction theories stipulate thatpressure creates a distracting environment which causes people to shift their attention to cuesthat are irrelevant to the task at hand. Explicit monitoring theory, also referred to as self-focused attention theory, suggests that pressure raises self-consciousness and this leads toincreased attention paid to skill processes at a step by step level, in colloquial terms explicitmonitoring can be referred to as 'over-thinking' it. The essay examines both theories in thedomains of sport and academic test-taking. It suggests that overall sport research supportsexplicit monitoring whereas research in the academic arena supports distraction theory.
 
 
 
‘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,
 
although it is recognised that arousal is necessary for attention to occur, it has been theorisedthat too much arousal can lead to detrimental effects on attention. High levels of arousal canresult in being distracting and over-whelming and lead to a decrease in recognition
 performance (Yerkes & Dodson, 1908). This concurs with Easterbrook’s (1959) cue
utilization hypothesis which stipulates that as arousal increases to an above optimal level, thenumber of cues utilised decreases. As arousal increases peripheral stimuli in the environmentare more likely to be ignored, (Eysenck & Willett, 1962). Easterbrook specifically highlightsthat emotional arousal consistently narrows the range of cue utilisation. Easterbrook stressesthat arousal is usually stronger in individuals under stress or threat. Anxiety oftentimes resultsfrom stress and threat, and it has been theorised that anxiety reduces the range of task cuesutilised in performance (Wine, 1971). This theory of attention has been applied to the area of eyewitness processing, concentrating on the weapon focus effect.
‘Weapon focus’ refers to the focalisation of a crime witness’s attention on a weapon, and
the resultant decrease in the
witness’s
capacity to remember other details of the crime(Loftus, Loftus & Messo, 1987). One law professor suggested that concentration of attentionon a weapon
is so high that it leads to ‘the exclusion of everything else’ (T
aylor, 1982, p. 32).Despite this suggestion Kassin, Ellsworth & Smith (1989) showed that only 56.6% of expertsreported that the weapon focus effect is reliable enough to be used by psychologists in court.A meta-analysis showed the effect to be reliable regarding both line-up identificationaccuracy and feature accuracy (Steblay, 1992). Moreover the effect was reliable over diverseexperimental settings using varying stimuli and procedures.Past theoretical conjecture has focused on arousal as the cause of weapon focus.
Steblay’s
 (1992) meta-analysis suggested that there is a greater weapon focus effect when morearousing stimuli are used; the effect was more pronounced in research scenarios reflective of real-life and when the weapon viewed was clearly a threatening object. This supports the

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