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Nelson Cowan: Processing limits of selective attention and working memory - Potential implications for interpreting

Nelson Cowan: Processing limits of selective attention and working memory - Potential implications for interpreting

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Processinglimitsofselectiveattention
~pdworking
memory
1?9tentialimplicationsforinterpreting
NelsonCowan
UniversityofMissouriThisarticlesummarizesrecentresearchonworkingmemoryandattention,withanemphasisononetheoreticalframework
in
whichworkingmemoryand"f!t~ntionareintricatelyrelated(Cowan,1988,1995,1999a).Withinthisframe-{~!rk,workingmemoryisconceivedasanactivatedportionoflong-termmem-
ory
and,withinthatactivatedportion,thefocusofattentionandcontrolpro-cessesthatdirectit.Thefocusofattentionpresumablycan
link
activatedele-mentstoformnewchunksofinformation.Severalbasicphenomenaaresketchedout,alongwiththeirpotentialrelevancefortheprocessofsimulta-neousinterpreting.Currentcontroversiesthatarelikelytobeofrelevancetointerpretingalsoarediscussed.Althoughthequestionofhowinterpretersmeetdifficultprocessingdemandscannotbeansweredpresentlybecausefewstudieshaveexaminedinterpreting,theevidencedoespointthewayto.a.numberofpromisinglinesofresearchoninterpretingthatcouldbecarriedout.
Processinglimitsofselectiveattentionandworkingmemorys,Poten~~dmplicationsforinterpreting
Thischaptertakesalookatresearchonattentionandworkingmemoryinhumansforthepurposeofpointingoutsomemethods,theoreticalideas,findings,andpredictionsfromthefieldofcognitivepsychologythatmayberelevanttotheamazingtaskofsimultaneouslyinterpretingfromonelanguagetoanother.Interpretinginvolvesthetranslationofspokenlanguageasitisspokenorinwhatistermed"realtime,"whichappearstorequiretypesofaandoverloadingofworkingmemorythatpeoplegenerallyasconditionsofinformationprocessing.
Interpreting
5:2(2000/01),117-146.
ISSN
1384-6647
I
E-ISSN
1569-982X©JohnBenjaminsPublishingCompany
 
Let
us.
begin'lioith.
a
IiG()katthe
ongfus
andtrends
of
researOhe;nattenrion
and
~'i"QiItingmlemOlTandthenexaminesomeofthemorerecentresearch
in
tD,ese'areas;.,\"l'itb
spa.ial
emphasis
onresearchissuesthattietogetherattention
and
1ll'orlciDgmemcory:Mymm
researchhasemphasized
this
rclati,onbetw:eenattentionandworkingmemory
(d.
Cowan,1988,1995,1999a,2001)..Averihesofresearch
,viR·
besuggestedthatcouldaddresstheroleofattention'and
workingmemeryie
simultaneousinterpreting.
Originsand
tFentdsofcognitiveresearchon
attention
ami
wodcmgmemory-
TIre
eaFlydaj'Sa/ill'famlt1tion-processingresearch
Thereisalonghistoryofphilosophicalthinkingandresearchonattentionandworkingmemory,althoughrelativelylittleapplicationofthisresearchto
interpreting,
In
histextthatcanbetakenasoneofthe
mostimportant
precur-sorstocognitivepsychology,WilliamJames(1890,pp.403-404)assertedthat"Everyoneknowswhatattentionis.Itisthetakingpossessionbythemind,indearandvividfOIDl,ofoneoutofwhatseemseveralsimultaneouslypossibleobjectsortrainsofthought"
In
additiontoprovidingsomeseminalideasaboutattention,lamesalsodefinedtheconceptsof"primarymemory,"referringtotheverylimitedinformationthatcanresideintheconsciousmindatanyonetime,and"secondarymemory,"referringtothevastamountofinformationthatanindividualretainsoveralifetime.TheconceptofprimarymemoryisrelatedtoattentionHonemakestheassumptionthatonlyattendedeventsenterintoprimarymemory;Roughlyspeaking,primarymemoryisthecoreofwhat
is
presentlytermedworkingmemory(e.g.,Baddeley,1986),whichcanbedefinedasthelimitedamountofmemorythatcanbeusedtoholdinformation(and,accordingtosomedefinitions,tomanipulateit)asnecessaryfortheexecutionofcomplexcognitivetasks.
DonaldBroadbentandattentionresearch
ThemodemsuccessofresearchinthesefieldswasgreatlyinfluencedbythetechnologicaladvancesthatoccurredduringWorldWarIIandinthefollowingdecadesand
is
still
ongoing,includingthedevelopmentofgeneral-purposecomputers.Muchofthisresearchinvolvedcommunicationinwaysthatmake
it
seemwell-suitedtothetaskofinvestigatingtheprocessesofinterpreting(althoughithasnotbeenappliedtointerpretingveryoften).DonaldBroadbentsummarizedmuchoftheresearchinhisseminal1958book,
Perceptionandcommunication.
PsychologistsinEnglandcontributedtothewareffortpartlybyattemptingtosolvecommunicationsproblemssuchashowmultiplemilitaryairpl@escouldsharetheradioairwavessafelywhenaplethoraofmessages,inclci!i'nglandinginstructions,couldbeheardallatonce.Howwellcouldapilotsingleouttherelevantmessage(i.e.,theoneaddressedtohim)fromaseaofirrelevantmessages?Howwellcouldthismessagebeunderstood?Howmuchcouldbeunderstoodaswellfromirrelevantmessages?Itturnedoutthatthistypeofpracticalissuealsohaddramatictheoreticalconsequences,someofwhichI
will
discussshortly.Sincethe1950s,therehasbeenagreatdealofnewresearchclarifyingprocessesofattention.(ForasummaryseeLuck
&
Vecera,2002.)However,thebulkofthatresearchhasusedvisualstimuliandthereforeisnotascloselyrelevanttotheprocessesinvolvedininterpretingasistheresearchontheprocessingofauditorystimuliincludingspokenlanguage.Theshiftofthefieldfromresearchprimarilyonauditoryprocessestovisualprocessesofattentionseemstohaveoccurredbecauseitbecameeasiertoachievegoodstimuluscontrolinthevisualmodality.Thecontrolofauditorystimulirequires,amongotherthings,arelativelylargeamountofcomputermemoryforthestorageofspeechdigitizedat.ratesthatwouldbeconsideredadequateforhigh-qualityreproduction(e.g.,storageof15,000voltagereadingspersecond).Withadvancesinpersonalcomputerssincethe1980s,though,thissortofresearchhasbecomefeasibleformoreresearchers.Iwillemphasizeauditoryresearch,whichhascontinuedasastreamasidethefloodofvisually-orientedresearchonattentionsincethe1970s.
GeorgeMiller,AlanBaddeley,andworking-memoryresiZarch
AfterJames'(1890)conceptofprimarymemory,theconceptofworkingmemory(thoughnotyetbythatname)receivedaboostfromawidely-knownarticlebyMiller(1956)on"themagicalnumbersevenplusorminustwo."Thispaperisrelatedtotheconceptofattentioninthat,forprimarymemoryasforattention,thecentralconceptisthatthereisalimittohowmuchinformationcanbeheldorprocessedatonetime.AsMillerpointed
outin
anautobiograph-icalpiece(Miller,1989),he
didn't.takehisownanswer
veryseriously.Hehadtwoseparateresearchareasthatheneededtocombineintoanhour-long
 
address:j~rnn~ate~of1ists
Q.h"ariomlen~andabsolu~ej~~gments
of,iteI\IllSna
OO:j};ttnu.Hm
,rillia
varyingnumberofresponsechoi!res:Theonly
mqnnoDatiityheOlllUiidBnd
betweenthetworesearchareaswasalimitinthe
l1Sll!al,
a.dlliltabii.lliJtyto:a:oout7itemsorresponsechoices.Heconsideredthis
possibqr
juSt
acomcidence
and
his
articlefocusedinsteadontheprocess)men:hyiitem$corudbeassociatedwithoneanothertoformasmallernumberofcoherentgfoupsor"chunks"ofinformation,andonhowthelimitinimmediaterecallseemedtoapplytochunksratherthanitems.Forexample,it
is
difficulttoremember9randomlettersbuteasytorememberlettersforming3chunks,suchasthe3acronyms
IBM-
CIA-FBI,wellknownasorganiza-tion'sintheUnitedStates.To
ID'y
knowledge,theterm"workingmemory"didnotappearinJames'writing.Lbeliesethat
it
alsodidnotappearintheworkofBroadbent(1958).Broadhenismaverickinformation-processingmodelwascrammedintoafootnotethatreferredtoa"limited-capacitychannel"tomeansomethinglikeJames'pri:marymemory,whereasthevocabularyofhisbookingeneralwas
mOFeda~Iy6ed
tothebehavioristera.Atkinson
&
Shiffrin€1968),inalater
lrrersiofi
ofmEOml!altion-processmgmodelinwhichrigorousmathematical
mooe!ing
methods,..ereapplied,madepopulartheterm"short-termmemory"andplacedemphasisonunderstandingcontrolprocesses-that-shuttleinforma-tion
in
andoutofthisshort-termmemory.Theterm"working.memory"mayhavestartedinanimalresearchtomeanmemoryforinformationthatchangedfromtrialtotrialinthetask,asopposedtootherinformationthatwasconstantthroughoutthetask.However,thetermwasmademorewidelypopularbyanarticlebyBaddeleyandHitch(1974)
snmmariziag.
researchonsomethingliketheprimarymemorysysteminhumans.
This
researchledtotheirsuggestionthattheconceptofprimarymemoryorshort-termmemorycouldreflectwhathappenedinhuman
experimeatsenly.if
it
werefractionatedintoseveralmorespecial..;p~osedevices.Theyhin1edatseveraldevicesthatBaddeley(1986)lateradvo~tedmorestron;gly:aphonologicalstorethatheldverbalinformation;avisne-spatialstore,thatheldinformationaboutthelayoutofobjectsinspace;andasetofattention-<iemanding,centralexecutiveprocessesthatwereusedtotransforminformation,andtoinitiateprocesses(suchascovertverbalrehearsal)thatwerethenusedtomaintaininformationinstorage.Theresearchshowedthatverbal
:rn
dspatialinformationinterferedwithlikeinformationmuchmorethantheymterferoo-:crossdifferenttypesofinformation.Thus,therewaslittleinterfer-
ence
betweenverbalandspatialinformationinmemory.
.',-
Differencesbetweenseveralapproaches
.
,
0He'differencebetweentheframeworksofferedbyBroadbent(1958)versusBaddeley(1986)isthatadifferentlevelofcodingwasemphasized.Broadbent'smodelplacedafairamountofemphasisonsensorymemorycodes.Thesewereseenasrelativelyunprocessedandlargeincapacity(thoughshort-lasting)buttthatwecoulddrawonlyasmallamountofinformationfromintolimited-capacityprocessing.BaddeleyandHitchplaced
....4'"IJH<Cl"""
ontypesofmemorythatweremoreprocessed,yetstillpassively
t'
~soshort-lasting).Forexample,giventhatmemoryforprintedleqersi~,11npairedwhenthelettershavenamesthatsoundsimilar(B,D,T,V,P~,~~~.),Hjse~medthatparticipantsmustgenerateaphonologicalcodeandthat
tlii'
lM~~'rn~phonologicalcodewasmoreimportantinworkingmemorythanw~s'lUteperipheralsensorycode.Broadbent's(1958,p.299)modeldidtermthestoragedevicethatwaslimitedbytime,butnotbycapacity,a"short-termstore."However,earlierchaI?t~;rsofhisbookmakeitseemthatthisincludedprimarilythetypesofinf6¥tationthatcomefromthesenses.Hismodeldidallowthatthelimited-capacitysystemcouldfeedinformationback
to.
theshort-termstorebuthedidnotclarifywhetherhethoughtthatitwassensoryinformationormoreabstract
.'.I
codedinformationthatwasplacedbackintotheshort-termstore.Ithastypicallybeenassumedthatonlyabstractinformationcanbefedbacktoshort-termstorageor"rehearsed"
butresearch
byKeller,Cowan,andSaults(1995)
'Ai'"'.'
sR'1QW;shatattentiontothepitchofatoneduringal
Oesecond
retentioninterval
C<lIl
helptoprolonginformationaboutthattonepitchwithmoreprecisionthanasemitone,'suggestingthat,inprinciple,eithersensoryormoreabstractinformation,suchasphonemes,couldberehearsed.PerhapsthatwasBroad-bent'sguessalso.,~,Alth()ug~itwasreasonableforBaddeley(1986)to.placegreatemphasisonshort-term*orageofabstractcodessuchasphonemes,researchonaless-abstracts'~nsiorymemorymakesitdearthatit,too,providesarichsourceofinformationforashorttimefollowingeachstimulusonset.Providingapartial-reportcueshortlyafteranarrayofitemsispresentedallowsexcellentrecovery
~l.,;fe
nfor~ationinthearray,bothinthevisualmodality(Sperling,1960)andlli'fueauditorymodality(Darwin,Turvey,
&
Crowder,1972;Rostron,1974).Xt;t,wholereportofthearrayallowsonlyabout4itemstoberecovered.Thehifgeamountpresumablycomesfromarelativelyunprocessedsensorymemo-
ry,
whereasthelimitedamountcomesfromaformofmemorythatmaybe

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