THEORIES OF PERCEPTION In order to receive information from the environment we are equipped with sense organs eg eye, ear

, nose. Each sense organ is part of a sensory system which receives sensory inputs and transmits sensory information to the brain. A particular problem for psychologists is to explain the process by which the physical energy received by sense organs forms the basis of perceptual experience. Sensory inputs are somehow converted into perceptions of desks and computers, flowers and buildings, cars and planes; into sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch experiences. A major theoretical issue on which psychologists are divided is the extent to which perception relies directly on the information present in the stimulus. Some argue that perceptual processes are not direct, but depend on the perceiver's expectations and previous knowledge as well as the information available in the stimulus itself. This controversy is discussed with respect to Gibson (1966) who has proposed a direct theory of perception which is a 'bottom-up' theory, and Gregory (1970) who has proposed a constructivist (indirect) theory of perception which is a 'topdown' theory. EXPLAINING PERCEPTION - A TOP-DOWN APPROACH Helmholtz (1821-1894) is considered one of the founders of perceptual research. He argued that between sensations and our conscious perception of the real world there must be intermediate processes. Such processes would be, for example, 'inferential thinking' - which allows us to go beyond the evidence of the senses (these inferences are at an unconscious level). Thus Helmholtz was an early Constructivist who believed perception is more than direct registration of sensations, but that other events intervene between stimulation and experience. An early illustration that supports the idea of perceptions as modifiable constructions rather than the direct responses to pattern of stimulation is the 'Ames Room'. This room is of an irregular shape with a receding rear wall and decorated in a special manner.


Viewing Point


The true wall, AC on the diagram, is decorated so as to appear to be in the position AB. Viewed from the front peephole with one eye the room appears to be rectangular but a person moving from A to C will appear to shrink.

One explanation for the Ames Room illusion is that the perceiver is in a situation of having to choose between two beliefs built up through experience - (a) rooms that look rectangular and normal, usually are just that, (b) people are usually of 'average' size. Most observers choose (a) and therefore consider the people to be 'odd'. The interesting thing about the Ames Room illusion is that it does not disappear when you learn the true shape of the room.


PERCEPTIONS AS HYPOTHESES - R L GREGORY (B 1923) Gregory proposes that perceiving is an activity resembling hypothesis formation and testing. He says that signals received by the sensory receptors trigger neural events, and appropriate knowledge interacts with these inputs to enable us to makes sense of the world. Gregory has presented evidence in support of his theory, some of which is outlined below: 1. 'Perception allows behaviour to be generally appropriate to non-sensed object characteristics'. For example, we respond to certain objects as though they are doors even though we can only see a long narrow rectangle as the door is ajar.
Gregory argues that surely to do this we must be using more than just sensory inputs. How do we know from this stimulus alone that this is a door?

2. 'Perceptions can be ambiguous' The Necker cube is a good example of this. When you stare at the crosses on the cube the orientation can suddenly change, or flip'. It becomes unstable and a single physical pattern can produce two perceptions.


3. 'Highly unlikely objects tend to be mistaken for likely objects'. Gregory has demonstrated this with a hollow mask of a face. Such a mask is generally seen as normal, even when one knows and feels the real mask. There seems to be an overwhelming need to reconstruct the face, similar to Helmholtz's description of 'unconscious inference'.

What we have seen so far would seem to confirm that indeed we do interpret the information that we receive, in other words, perception is a top down process. However:…. EVALUATION OF THE TOP-DOWN APPROACII TO PERCEPTION 1. The Nature of Perceptual Hypotheses If perceptions make use of hypothesis testing the question can be asked 'what kind of hypotheses are they?' Scientists modify a hypothesis according to the support they find for it so are we as perceivers also able to modify our hypotheses? In some cases it would seem the answer is yes. For example, look at the figure below:


for example: Newborn infants show shape constancy (Slater & Morison. 1980). can you see it? The face is looking straight ahead and is in the top half of the picture in the centre. For example. 2. Perceptual Development A perplexing question for the constructivists who propose perception is essentially top-down in nature is 'how can the neonate ever perceive?' If we all have to construct our own worlds based on past experiences why are our perceptions so similar. In fact there is a hidden face in there. One would expect that the knowledge we have learned (from. a substantial body of evidence has been accrued favouring the nativist approach.This probably looks like a random arrangement of black shapes. The constructivist approach stresses the role of knowledge in perception and therefore is against the nativist approach to perceptual development. in other cases this is not so evident. they prefer their mother's voice to other voices (De Casper & Fifer. Gregory 1974). even across cultures? Relying on individual constructs for making sense of the world makes perception a very individual and chancy process. touching the face and confirming that it is not 'normal') would modify our hypotheses in an adaptive manner. Although in some cases. However. 1985). The current hypothesis testing theories cannot explain this lack of a relationship between learning and perception. say. as in the ambiguous face picture. Now can you see it? The figure is strongly lit from the side and has long hair and a beard. and it has been established that they prefer normal features to scrambled features as early as 5 minutes after birth.g. illusions persist even when we have full knowledge of them (e. there is a direct relationship between modifying hypotheses and perception. very rapid perceptual learning takes place and the ambiguous picture now obviously contains a face each time we look at it. We have learned to perceive the stimulus in a different way. the inverted face. Once the face is discovered. 4 .

in an important sense. background.4. Affordances. That is. There is a rich array of sensory information including other objects. with the rest of the visual environment apparently moving away from that point. They propose that sensory evidence from other sources must be available for us to be able to do this. This rich source of sensory information is important to the second approach to explaining perception that we will examine. the distant horizon and movement. When pilots approach a landing strip the point towards which the pilot is moving appears motionless. Optic Flow Patterns. These are now discussed. A DIRECT APPROACH TO PERCEPTION . However. in the real world. we correctly perceive the size of an object even though the retinal image of an object shrinks as the object recedes. 2. namely the direct approach to perception as proposed by Gibson. and 3. 5 . retinal images are rarely seen in isolation (as is possible in the laboratory). Three important components of Gibson's Theory are 1. Constructivists like Gregory frequently use the example of size constancy to support their explanations. Sensory Evidence Perhaps the major criticism of the constructivists is that they have underestimated the richness of sensory evidence available to perceivers in the real world (as opposed to the laboratory where much of the constructivists' evidence has come from). speed and altitude.GIBSON 1966 Gibson claimed that perception is. Invariant Features. The outflow of the optic array in a landing glide. According to Gibson such optic flow patterns can provide pilots with unambiguous information about their direction. He worked during World War II on problems of pilot selection and testing and came to realise: In his early work on aviation he discovered what he called 'optic flow patterns'. direct.

See above for moving towards an object. This flow of texture is INVARIANT. Light and the Environment . ie it always occurs in the same way as we move around our environment and.Optic Flow Patterns Changes in the flow of the optic array contain important information about what type of movement is taking place. according to Gibson. For example: 2 3 Any flow in the optic array means that the perceiver is moving. is an important direct cue to depth. The role of Invariants in perception We rarely see a static view of an object or scene. There is a pattern or structure available in such texture gradients which provides a source of information about the environment. 2. 6 . Two good examples of invariants are texture and linear perspective. When we move our head and eyes or walk around our environment. If a flow seems to be coming out from a particular point. then the perceiver is moving away. things move in and out of our viewing fields. but if the flow seems to be moving towards that point. if there is no flow the perceiver is static. this means the perceiver is moving towards that point.1. Textures expand as you approach an object and contract as you move away. The centre of that movement indicates the direction in which the perceiver is moving. The flow of the optic array will either be coming from a particular point or moving towards one. below is moving away: The Optic Flow pattern for a person looking out of the back of a train.

in short. Objects with brighter. cues in the environment that aid perception. appear to converge as they recede into the distance. the first object is seen as closer. clearer images are perceived as closer. The grain of texture gets smaller as the object recedes. Objects with smaller images are seen as more distant. 3. Important cues in the environment include: OPTICAL ARRAY RELATIVE BRIGHTNESS TEXTURE GRADIENT The patterns of light that reach the eye from the environment. RELATIVE SIZE SUPERIMPOSITION HEIGHT IN THE VISUAL FIELD 7 . When an object moves further away from the eye the image gets smaller. Objects further away are generally higher in the visual field. eg railway tracks. Affordances Are. Gives the impression of surfaces receding into the distance. If the image of one object blocks the image of another.Linear Perspective Texture Gradient giving the appearance of depth Parallel lines.

1955 defined perceptual set as: "a perceptual bias or predisposition or readiness to perceive particular features of a stimulus". Bottom-up or Top-down Processing? Neither direct nor constructivist theories of perception seem capable of explaining all perception all of the time. 8 . understand and name selected data and what inferences to draw from it. One theory that explains how top-down and bottom-up processes may be seen as interacting with each other to produce the best interpretation of the stimulus was proposed by Neisser (1976) known as the 'Perceptual Cycle'. Research by Tulving et al manipulated both the clarity of the stimulus input and the impact of the perceptual context in a word identification task. eg in illusions. (2) The perceiver knows how to classify. He claimed the illusions used in experimental work constituted extremely artificial perceptual situations unlikely to be encountered in the real world. the object appears to move in the opposite direction . however this dismissal cannot realistically be applied to all illusions. so did the likelihood of correct identification. For example if you stare for some time at a waterfall and then transfer your gaze to a stationary object. However. where stimulus information is plentiful and is available for a suitable length of time. Perceptual set is a tendency to perceive or notice some aspects of the available sensory data and ignore others. Constructivist theories. Neither can Gibson's theory explain naturally occurring illusions. as the exposure duration increased. have typically involved viewing under less than ideal conditions. PERCEPTUAL SET The concept of perceptual set is important to the active process of perception. 1955 set works in two ways: (1) The perceiver has certain expectations and focuses attention on particular aspects of the sensory data: This he calls a 'Selector'. Gibson's theory cannot account for perceptual errors like the general tendency for people to overestimate vertical extents relative to horizontal ones. However. According to Vernon. so the impact of context was reduced.EVALUATION OF GIBSON'S DIRECT APPROACH TO PERCEPTION Visual Illusions Gibson's emphasis on DIRECT perception provides an explanation for the (generally) fast and accurate perception of the environment. For example. Gibson's theory appears to be based on perceivers operating under ideal viewing conditions. Allport. like Gregory's. suggesting that if stimulus information is high. This he calls an 'Interpreter'. then the need to use other sources of information is reduced. As clarity of the stimulus (through exposure duration) and the amount of context increased. his theory cannot explain why perceptions are sometimes inaccurate.

2. (c) A study by Bugelski and Alampay. 1961 using the 'rat-man' ambiguous figure also demonstrated the importance of expectation in inducing set. EXPECTATION (a) Bruner & Minturn. Participants were shown either a series of animal pictures or neutral pictures prior to exposure to the ambiguous picture.g. whereas we EXPECT to see numbers in the context of other numbers. 1955 illustrated how expectation could influence set by showing participants an ambiguous figure '13' set in the context of letters or numbers e. For example: 1. 9 . 'The Cat Sat on the Map and Licked its Whiskers'. The physical stimulus '13' is the same in each case but is perceived differently because of the influence of the context in which it appears. or factors.It has been found that a number of variables. influence set. (b) We may fail to notice printing/writing errors for the same reason. Once in a a lifetime (a) and (b) are examples of interaction between expectation and past experience. The factors include: • Expectations • Emotion • Motivation • Culture 1. and set in turn influences perception. They found participants were significantly more likely to perceive the ambiguous picture as a rat if they had had prior exposure to animal pictures. We EXPECT to see a letter in the context of other letters of the alphabet.

the more familiar we become with it and the more we like it. which is learned rather than automatic. participants were presented a pair of geometric forms. Similarly Gilchrist & Nesberg. 1952. (a) Sandford. He found people from several cultures prefer drawings which don't show perspective. His findings suggest that perceiving perspective in drawings is in fact a specific cultural skill. For each pair. as they consistently favoured old forms over new ones. Thus information that is unavailable for conscious recognition seems to be available to an unconscious system that is linked to affect and emotion. Results showed no discrimination on the recognition test . 1936 deprived participants of food for varying lengths of time. on each of a series of test trials. 3. This effect did not occur with non-food pictures. Participants were more likely to interpret the pictures as something to do with food if they had been deprived of food for a longer period of time. CULTURE (a) Deregowski. up to 4 hours. MOT1VATION AND EMOTION Allport. participants had to answer two questions: (a) Which of the 2 had previously been presented? ( A recognition test). (b) A more recent study into the effect of emotion on perception was carried out by KunstWilson & Zajonc. 1955 has distinguished 6 types of motivational-emotional influence on perception: (i) bodily needs (eg physiological needs) (ii) reward and punishment (iii) emotional connotation (iv) individual values (v) personality (vi) the value of objects. Participants were repeatedly presented with geometric figures. 1980. and (b) Which of the two was most attractive? (A feeling test). but at levels of exposure too brief to permit recognition. Then.they were completely unable to tell old forms from new ones. but instead are split so as to show 10 . one of which had previously been presented and one of which was brand new.2. The hypothesis for this study was based on a well-known finding that the more we are exposed to a stimulus. but participants could discriminate on the feeling test. 1972 investigated whether pictures are seen and understood in the same way in different cultures. and then showed them ambiguous pictures. found participants who had gone without food for the longest periods were more likely to rate pictures of food as brighter.

An incorrect interpretation is that the elephant is nearer and about to be speared. 11 . The picture contains two depth cues: overlapping objects and known size of objects. A correct interpretation is that the hunter is trying to spear the antelope. Perspective drawings give just one view of an object. Deregowski argued that this split-style representation is universal and is found in European children before they are taught differently.both sides of an object at the same time. 1960 noted difficulties among South African Bantu workers in interpreting depth cues in pictures. A person using depth cues will extract a different meaning from a picture than a person not using such cues. Hudson tested pictorial depth perception by showing participants a picture like the one below. Splittype drawings show all the important features of an object which could not normally be seen at once from that perspective. Elephant drawing split-view and top-view perspective. In one study he found a fairly consistent preference among African children and adults for split-type drawings over perspective-drawings. the antelope or the elephant?’ ‘What is the man doing?’' The results indicted that both children and adults found it difficult to perceive depth in the pictures. (b) Hudson. Such cues are important because they convey information about the spatial relationships among the objects in pictures. Questions were asked in the participants native language such as: ‘What do you see?’ ‘Which is nearer. The split elephant drawing was generally preferred by African children and adults. which is nearer to him than the elephant.

the door is 'seen' as a rectangular shape even when open and the retinal image is of a trapezium. regardless of their distance away from us. Perceptual set is concerned with the active nature of perceptual processes and clearly there may be a difference cross-culturally in the kinds of factors that affect perceptual set and the nature of the effect. VISUAL CONSTANCIES Perceptual constancies involve seeing visual objects accurately. 12 . or other factors that distort the retinal image.The cross-cultural studies seem to indicate that history and culture play an important part in how we perceive our environment. For example.

Light rays enter through the lens in the front of the eye and are focused on a particular area of the retina at the back of the eye.1. your left hand at arms length and your right hand about half way to your face. Retina Lens Hands. This can be demonstrated: Hold both hands in front of you.this is because the two hands are actually stimulating different sized retinal images. but the retinal image of the right hand will be much larger. The visual system 13 . near and far. How is it that we 'perceive' the hand as being the same size in spite of these differences in the retinal image? One explanation for this (ie for 'size constancy') is that the brain receives information both about size of the retinal image and distance of the object. Both hands are 'perceived' as the same size. The intriguing question is 'how does the brain interpret the light image on the retina to arrive at an accurate perception?' This is particularly interesting when we try to explain how objects are perceived as the same size even when seen at a distance. SIZE CONSTANCY When we observe an object. Note that the nearer hand has a much larger image on the retina. the light falling on the retina is known as the 'retinal image'. Now move your right hand so that it overlaps the left hand. You should find that the right hand 'swamps' the left . The diagram below shows the different sizes of retinal images projected by the same sized hand at different distances. stin with the left at arms length and the right hand halfway towards your face.

and two of these are: A. For example. this is due to kinaesthetic feedback. MOTION PARALLAX To a moving observer distant objects appear to move more slowly than near objects. Now close that eye and open the other eye . As we move around the environment we produce a constantly changing pattern of retinal images yet we do not perceive the world as spinning. Knowledge of the 'real' colour of the object means that it is still perceived as being that colour. Several distance cues have been identified which could aid the process of constancy scaling. The visual system can use this information to calculate how far away the telegraph poles are. regardless of the actual colour wavelength of the light that reaches the eye. SHAPE CONSTANCY Knowledge of the 'real' shape of an object means that it is still perceived as being the same regardless of the angle from which it is viewed. RETINAL DISPARITY The retina in each eye receives a slightly different image. Thus at night we still perceive our red car as 'red' even under the night light. 4. For example. COLOUR AND BRIGHTESS CONSTANCY This is where familiar objects retain their colour (or hue) in a variety of lighting conditions. when you look out of the window of a moving train nearer objects like telegraph poles flash by faster than distant telegraph poles. when using both eyes the visual system calculates how far away the finger is by combining information from the differences between the two images on the retinas. distance cues inform the brain that it is further away than the right hand and this can explain the smaller retinal image. B.seems to automatically make allowances for distance. 14 . The brain subtracts the eye movement commands from the resulting changes on the retina and this helps to keep us and the environment stable. For example. LOCATION CONSTANCY Knowledge that objects don't generally move means that things are seen as remaining in the same place even when the observer moves around and the retinal image changes. I 'perceive' the wall clock as circular even though from the angle I am now looking at it the retinal image is of an elliptical shape. 3. 2. Normally. even thought the retinal image of the left hand is small.the finger appears to move. To demonstrate this: close one eye and line your finger up with the corner of the room. Taking account of both size and distance in the visual system the brain would probably conclude that the hands are the same size.

It is when perception goes wrong that psychologists have been given insight into how the automatic scaling mechanism might operate. An object which is further away produces a smaller retinal image. In the case of the Ponzo Illusion the converging lines are the false depth cues which suggest the top line is further away than the bottom line. In most cases automatic triggering of the size constancy mechanism by a simple depth cue would result in an accurate perception. The eye is tricked by the depth cues in the converging lines into 'thinking' the top line is further away. Normally the visual system receives accurate information about the size and distance of objects eg by the use of distance cues. it doesn't require us to think about it. we usually perceive the nearest line as longer) is that these type of illusions contain false depth cues which trigger the size constancy mechanism inappropriately. 15 . The size constancy mechanism therefore expands the perceived size of the top line.VISUAL ILLUSIONS Constancy scaling seems to happen automatically. One explanation for why we perceive the top line as longer (paradoxically. Psychologists have been particularly interested in instances where the visual system makes errors as it does when conflicting information is received. Look at the Ponzo Illusion: Which horizontal line looks longer? In the Ponzo Illusion the top horizontal line looks longer than the line below it despite the fact that they are the same size and therefore must have the same retinal image.

If the moon (whose retinal image remains the same) appears to be further away when it is closer to the horizon then we conclude it must be larger. near the horizon. 16 . Why then does it appear to be much larger when it is near the horizon? One explanation is constancy scaling. One illusion that does occur in the natural world is the 'Moon Illusion'.ILLUSIONS IN THE NATURAL WORLD Illusions are relatively rare in the natural world and so there has been no evolutionary pressure to produce a perceptual system that overcomes this. However. The horizon is as far away as it is possible to see so constancy scaling automatically increases the size. depth cues operate. You can 'black out' the moon by holding a 1/4 inch disc at arm's length. FOUR TYPES OF ILLUSIONS Gregory. 1983 has identified 4 types of illusions: Distortions (eg Ponzo Illusion) where we make a perceptual mistake. there is no depth/distance information visible. The size of the retinal image does not change. so you see the moon at its correct (ie retinal image) size. When the moon is high in the sky. The moon (and sun) appears larger when low down on the horizon than when high in the sky. Ambiguous figures (eg the Necker Cube) where the same input results in different perceptions. whether the moon is high or low in the sky. when the moon is low down.

. Fictions (eg the Kanizsa triangle) where we see what is not in the stimulus. ie a second triangle... of one of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Do we attend simultaneously to everything in our environment or do we attend selectively to certain types of information at any one time? The topics of perception and attention merge into 17 . ATTENTION "Everyone knows what attention is.Paradoxical Figures (eg the Penrose Trident) we assume this is a 3-dimensional object. it implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others " W James 1890. It is taking possession by the mind. in clear and vivid form.

Storage processes cover everything that happens to stimuli internally in the brain and can include coding and manipulation of the stimuli. Therefore some of the same questions are at issue. or boxes.each other since both are concerned with the question of what we become aware of in our environment. Output processes are responsible for preparing an appropriate response to a stimulus. and how many things we can attend to at the same time (attentional capacity). Cocktail Party Syndrome).g. We can only perceive things we are attending to. INFORMATION PROCESSING SYSTEM STIMULUS Input processes Storage processes Output processes RESPONSE Information processing models consist of a series of stages. Broadbent and others in the 1950's adopted a model of the brain as a limited capacity information processing system. perception. including: (1) information made available by the environment is processed by a series of processing systems (eg attention. Basic Assumptions of the Information Processing Approach to Cognitive Processes The information processing approach is based on a number of assumptions. notably the question of whether attention is governed by 'bottom-up' sensory processes (as proposed by the information processing models) or whether 'top-down' processes like memory/expectations etc play an important part in attention. which represent stages of processing. we tend to ignore other stimulation. 18 . ATTENTION THEORIES are concerned with how information is selected from incoming stimuli for further processing in the system . One way of conceptualising attention is to think of humans as information processors who can only process a limited amount of information at a time without becoming overloaded. HUMANS AS INFORMATION PROCESSORS When we are selectively attending to one activity. short-term memory). Psychologists are interested in what makes us attend to one thing rather than another (selective attention). why we sometimes switch our attention to something that was previously unattended (e. Arrows indicate the flow of information from one stage to the next. like the telephone ringing or someone using our name. we can only attend to things we perceive. through which external input is transmitted. Input processes are concerned with the analysis of the stimuli.therefore operate at the input processes end of the model. although our attention can be distracted by something else.

However. The information processing models assume serial processing of stimulus inputs. and the information processing approach in general. Attention Selective Attention Divided Attention (Processes only one input) eg Broadbent/Treisman Dichotic Listening Tasks (Processes all inputs) eg Kahneman Dual Task Experiments Auditory Visual 19 Task Similarity Practice . (4) information processing in humans resembles that in computers. Serial processing effectively means one process has to be completed before the next starts. A number of Models of attention within the Information Processing framework have been proposed including: Broadbent's Filter Model (1958). (3) the aim of research is to specify the processes and structures that underlie cognitive performance. there are a number of evaluative points to bear in mind when studying these models.(2) these processing systems transform or alter the information in systematic ways. Treisman's Attenuation Model (1964) Deutsch and Deutsch's Late Selection Model (1963) and these will be outlined and evaluated. Parallel processing assumes some or all processes involved in a cognitive task(s) occur at the same time. These include: 1.

BUT (i) the human brain has the capacity for extensive parallel processing and computers often rely on serial processing. Most laboratory studies are artificial and could be said to lack ecological validity. The more successful we become at examining part of the cognitive system in isolation. whereas in the laboratory the experiments are carried out in isolation form other cognitive and motivational factors. The analogy between human cognition and computer functioning adopted by the information processing approach is limited. Parallel processing is probably more frequent when someone is highly skilled. 4. (ii) humans are influenced in their cognitions by a number of conflicting emotional and motivational factors. In everyday life. although clearly it operates as an interdependent system with the related cognitive processes of perception and memory. the less our data are likely to tell us about cognition in everyday life. The Models proposed by Broadbent and Treisman are 'bottom-up' or ‘stimulus driven’ models of attention. for example a skilled typist thinks several letters ahead. fate of unattended stimuli Task Difficulty Eg effects on automaticity There is evidence from dual-task experiments (examples are given later) that parallel processing is possible. Neisser. Attention has been studied largely in isolation from other cognitive processes. These influences are known as 'top-down' or 'conceptually-driven' processes. and (ii) most computers have a central processor of limited capacity and it is usually assumed that capacity limitations affect the human attentional system. 3. For example. the data may not be applicable to the real world outside the laboratory. a novice focuses on just 1 letter at a time. cognitive processes are often linked to a goal (eg you pay attention in class because you want to pass the examination). Although it is agreed that stimulus driven information in cognition is important. More recent ecologically valid approaches to cognition have been proposed (eg the Perceptual Cycle. The evidence for the theories/models of attention which come under the information processing approach is largely based on experiments under controlled. read the triangle below: Paris in the the Spring 20 . Although these laboratory experiments are easy to interpret. what the individual brings to the task in terms of expectations/past experiences are also important.Eg Shadowing. scientific conditions. It is difficult to determine whether a particular task is processed in a serial or parallel fashion as it probably depends (a) on the processes required to solve a task. 2. Computers can be regarded as information processing systems insofar as they: (i) combine information presented with stored information to provide solutions to a variety of problems. 1976). and (b) the amount of practice on a task.

Because we have only a limited capacity to process information. The inputs not initially selected by the filter remain briefly in the sensory buffer. One of the inputs is then selected on the basis of its physical characteristics for further processing by being allowed to pass through a filter. supposedly. The narrower the bottleneck. which started with his work with air traffic controllers during the war. the lower the rate of flow. as. say. Broadbent designed an experiment (dichotic listening) to investigate the processes involved in switching attention which are presumed to be going on internalb in our heads. all requiring attention. Broadbent (1958) looked at air-traffic control type problems in a laboratory. attending to. this filter is designed to prevent the information-processing system from becoming overloaded. in the narrow neck of a milk bottle. Broadbent's. and if they are not processed they decay rapidly. BROADBENT’S FlLTER MODEL Donald Broadbent is recognised as one of the major contributors to the information processing approach. This limited capacity for paying attention is therefore a bottleneck and the models each try to explain how the material that passes through the bottleneck is selected. The air traffic controller finds s/he can deal effectively with only one message at a time and so has to decide which is the most important. In that situation a number of competing messages from departing and incoming aircraft are arriving continuously. Treisman's and Deutsch and Deutsch Models of Attention are all bottleneck models because they predict we cannot consciously attend to all of our sensory input at the same time. Broadbent assumed that the filter rejected the non-shadowed or unattended message at an early stage of processing. 21 .Expectation (top-down processing) often over-rides information actually available in the stimulus (bottom-up) which we are. Broadbent argued that information from all of the stimuli presented at any given time enters a sensory buffer. How did you read the text in the triangle above? MODELS OF ATTENTION BOTTLENECK MODELS OF ATTENTION A bottleneck restricts the rate of flow.

Broadbent wanted to see how people were able to focus their attention (selectively attend). this is known as a 'dichotic listening task'. Right Ear 7 5 6 Left Ear 4 8 3 1. Participants were asked to listen to both messages at the same time and repeat what they heard.3). One of the ways Broadbent achieved this was by simultaneously sending one message (a 3-digit number) to a person's right ear and a different message (a different 3-digit number) to their left ear. SINGLE CHANNEL MODEL 22 .6) and 3 digits in their left ear (4. or repeat back what was heard in one ear followed by the other ear (ear-by-ear).they had too many signals.8. He actually found that people made fewer mistakes repeating back ear by ear and would usually repeat back this way. and to do this he deliberately overloaded them with stimuli . too much information to process at the same time. Broadbent was interested in how these would be repeated back.5. Would the participant repeat the digits back in the order that they were heard (order of presentation). Order of presentation 74 58 63 (ii) Ear by ear 756 483 In the example above the participant hears 3 digits in their right ear (7.

or the type of voice. Broadbent thought that the filter. though you may be able to repeat back a few items from the unattended ear. Broadbent assumed that the filter rejected the non-shadowed or unattended message at an early stage of processing. All SEMANTIC PROCESSING (processing the information to decode the meaning. The inputs not initially selected by the filter remain briefly in the sensory buffer store. and if they are not processed they decay rapidly. According to Broadbent the meaning of any of the messages is not taken into account at all by the filter. in other words understand what is said) is carried out after the filter has selected the channel to pay attention to. which particular ear the information was coming to. Selection on the basis of physical characteristics is possible that the unattended message is analysed thoroughly but participants his is a single channel model. So you can only pay attention to the message in one ear at a time . (b) Participants reported after the entire message had been played . This could be explained by the short-term memory store which holds onto information in the unattended ear for a short time.Results from this research led Broadbent to produce his 'filter' model of how selective attention operates. Because we have only a limited capacity to process information. ear Input channels Short Term Memory Store FILTER Selected input for attention. Eysenck & Keane (1990) claim that the inability of naive participants to shadow successfully is due to their unfamiliarity with the shadowing task rather than an inability of the attentional system. EVALUATION OF BROADBENT'S MODEL (1) Broadbent's dichotic listening experiments have been criticised because: (a) The early studies all used people who were unfamiliar with shadowing and so found it very difficult and demanding. 23 . this filter is designed to prevent the information-processing system from becoming overloaded.g. We can listen either to the right ear (that's one channel) or the left ear (that's another channel). Broadbent also discovered that it is difficult to switch channels more than twice a second. In the dichotic listening task each ear is a channel. Broadbent concluded that we can pay attention to only one channel at a time . which selects one channel for attention. eye. So whatever message is sent to the unattended ear is not understood.the message in the other ear is lost. BROADBENT’S FILTER MODEL Senses e. does this only on the basis of PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS of the information coming in: for example.

More recent research has indicated the above points are important: eg Moray. When the same word was later presented to the unattended channel. Right Ear Jack 2 Jill Left Ear 1 and 3 Possible Responses 24 .(c) Analysis of the unattended message might occur below the level of conscious awareness. 3. A word was first presented to participants with a mild electric shock. participants registered an increase in GSR (indicative of emotional arousal and analysis of the word in the unattended channel). In Broadbent's model the filter is based solely on sensory analysis of the physical characteristics of the stimuli. Broadbent's theory predicts that hearing your name when you are not paying attention should be impossible because unattended messages are filtered out before you process the meaning thus the model cannot account for the 'Cocktail Party Phenomenon'. Broadbent's Filter Model predicts this would not be possible. Moray (an experienced 'shadower') detected 67%. Other researchers have demonstrated the 'cocktail party effect' under experimental conditions and have discovered occasions when information heard in the unattended ear 'broke through' to interfere with information participants are paying attention to in the other ear. It is now certain that the unattended message can be processed far more thoroughly than was allowed for in Broadbent's theory. N (1969) studied the effects of practice. as shown in the diagram below). GRAY & WEDDERBURN'S EXPERIMENT Gray & Wedderburn found that participants were able to give a category by category response (ie one that made sense of the material heard. This implies some analysis of meaning of stimuli must have occurred prior to the selection of channels. Naive subjects could only detect 8% of digits appearing in either the shadowed or non-shadowed message. For example. research by von Wright et al (1975) indicated analysis of the unattended message in a shadowing task. Gray & Wedderburn (1960) found that students could put material from both ears together so that it made sense. For example. 2.

the filtering) is made early. including attenuated inputs are passed on for semantic analysis. Attenuation is like turning down the volume so that if you have 4 sources of sound in one room (TV. TREISMAN'S ATTENUATION Senses e. If it is assumed the unattended material is held in a temporary buffer store. the unattended material appears lost. before semantic analysis. The result is almost the same as turning them off. In one shadowing experiment. When the French version lagged only slightly behind the English version. there is a chance you will hear it because the material is still there. participants could report that both messages had the same 25 . In an experiment with bilingual participants. if a nonattended channel includes your name? for example. ear Input channels Attenuating Filter Semantic Analysis Filter Inputs. participants noticed the similarity. Selected input for attention. identical messages were presented to two ears but with a slight delay between them. Broadbent's model suggests that the selection of material to attend to (that is. When the unattended message was ahead of the shadowed message by upto to 2 seconds.Ear by Ear Jack 2 Jill 1 and 3 Category by Category 123 Jack and Jill Order of Presentation Jack 1 2 and Jill 3 ANNE TREISMAN’S (1964) ATTENUATION MODEL Selective attention requires that stimuli are filtered so that attention is directed. but disagreed with the location. baby crying) you can turn down or attenuate 3 in order to attend to the fourth.g. Typically. Treisman carried out experiments using the speech shadowing method. Treisman presented the attended message in English and the unattended message in a French translation. But. If this delay was too long. then these results would indicate that the duration of material held in sensory buffer store is about 2 seconds. in this method participants are asked to simultaneously repeat aloud speech played into one ear (called the attended ear) whilst another message is spoken to the other ear. The crucial difference is that Treisman's filter ATTENUATES rather than eliminates the unattended material. radio. eye. Treisman agreed with Broadbent that there was a bottleneck. then participants did not notice that the same material was played to both ears. people talking. Treisman's model retains this early filter which works on physical features of the message only.

The general framework for a late selection theory of this kind was first proposed by Deutsch and Deutsch (1963) and was later elaborated by Norman (1968).meaning. It will often happen that there is insufficient processing capacity to permit a full analysis of unattended stimuli. could not explain these findings. Some items will retain a permanently reduced threshold. Treisman's model does not explain how exactly semantic analysis works. where the filter extracted on the basis of physical characteristics only. Treisman's ATTENUATION THEORY. it does not allow for meaning being taken into account. when comparing the input's descriptions to those of stored objects? The issue is important because it concerns whether we can selectively ignore something before we know what it means . EVALUATION OF TREISMAN'S ATTENUATION MODEL 1. In that case. EARLY VS LATE SELECTION MODELS OF ATTENTION When does selectivity occur? Does it happen in the early stages of recognition .EARLY SELECTION . suggests processing of the unattended message is attenuated or reduced to a greater or lesser extent depending on the demands on the limited capacity processing system. The evidence suggests that Broadbent's Filter Model is not adequate. then. items have to reach a certain threshold of intensity All the attended/selected material will reach this threshold but only some of the attenuated items. 3. beginning with analysis of physical characteristics. C1early. Other items will have a reduced threshold at a particular moment if they have some relevance to the main attended message.g. An alternative view is that information from all channels is transmitted to the semantic analysis recognition stage and it is only after this that a selection is made. 2. the Attenuation Model can account for the 'Cocktail Party Syndrome'. Treisman's Model overcomes some of the problems associated with Broadbent's Filter Model. sy11abic pattern.L ATE SELECTION. later analyses will be omitted. and individual words. This theory neatly predicts that it will usually be the physical characteristics of unattended inputs which are remembered rather than their meaning. DEUTSCH AND DEUTSCH’S LATE SELECTION MODEL (1963) 26 . A problem with all dichotic listening experiments is that you can never be sure that the participants have not actually switched attention to the so called unattended channel. To be analysed. the unattended message was being processed for meaning and Broadbent's Filter Model.or during the later stages. Treisman suggested messages are processed in a systematic way. After that.or only after we know its meaning . The nature of the attenuation process has never been precisely specified. Broadbent and Treisman agree that selection of a single channel occurs at an early stage before recognition processes begin and so their models are called EARLY SELECTION MODELS. in which the unattended message is processed less thoroughly than the attended one. 4. for example your own name or words/phrases like 'help' and 'fire'. grammatical structure and meaning are processed. e.when constructing a description of the input .

DEUTSCH AND DEUTSCH'S PERTINENCE MODEL (1963) Senses e. participants who were quite unaware at a conscious level of the word in their unattended ear. He found that several of his participants produced a change in GSR when the word occurred in an unattended message even though they were not aware of hearing it. Material is identified or recognised. eye. Their model suggests that all inputs are subject to high level semantic analysis before a filter selects material for conscious attention. value and importance weighed and the most relevant is passed upwards for conscious attention. or is in context. ear Input channels Top Down Factors DEUTSCH AND DEUTSCH (1963) proposed a more radical departure from Broadbent's position in their claim that all inputs are fully analysed before any selection occurs. Later. chose meanings for the ambiguous sentence they had shadowed which were in line with the unattended word.g. 27 . EVALUATION OF THE DEUTSCH AND DEUTSCH (1963) MODEL FOR THE MODEL 1. The bottleneck or filter is thus placed later in the information processing system. For example. McKay (1973) using ambiguous words like 'bark' instructed participants to shadow an ambiguous sentence while. Moray (1969) paired an electric shock with a word over several trials so that the person became conditioned to produce a detectable change in GSR (Galvanic Skin Response) when the word was spoken. in the unattended ear a word was played which could clarify the meaning of the sentence. immediately before a response is made. 2. your name for example. Some support for a late selection model is offered by research which shows an unattended message in a dichotic listening task can affect behaviour even though the listener has no conscious awareness of hearing the unattended message. Semantic Analysis (Unconscious) Conscious Attention Output. is likely to be selected. Selection at that late stage is based on the relative importance of the inputs.DEUTSCH AND DEUTSCH (1963) solved the problems posed by the Broadbent model in a different way to Treisman. its relevance. Selection is also 'top-down' as opposed to Broadbent's and Treisman's Models which are known as 'bottom-up' in that an item which has relevance to you. Selection is therefore later because it occurs after items have been recognised rather than before as in Broadbent's model.

197S). According to Treisman's theory. More recent studies have also shown that under some circumstances unattended material may receive some degree of analysis. The basic idea is that some mental and physical processes are under an individual's conscious control. without conscious awareness or intention. suggesting attenuated processing of the unattended message. The research to support the Deutsh and Deutsch Model can also be explained by Treisman's model. Treisman and Geffen (1967) asked participants to shadow one of two simultaneous messages.Right Ear (Attended and Shadowed Ear) “the bark was not like anything she was familiar with” Left Ear (Unattended Ear) Either (a) tree or (b) dog. 3. 2. When a measure of brain-wave activity known as the evoked potential is recorded. detection was significantly higher on the shadowed message. As Treisman's Model predicts. For example. while others tend to occur automatically. but that most of the analysed information is lost immediately. Perhaps on grounds of economy and explanatory powers of the available experimental data. detection on the unattended message should be less than the shadowed message. the assumption made by Deutsch and Deutsch that all stimuli are analysed completely. Wexler (1988) found that a GSR response varied not only according to ear of presentation but also according to the personality of the listener. A word in the unattended ear could have a reduced threshold because of its relevance. Detection was indicated by tapping. indicating that processing of unattended material is more complicated than the early models suggest. AUTOMATIC PROCESSING Researchers interested in attention have suggested a distinction between AUTOMATIC and CONTROLLED processing (Posner ~ Snyder. and at the same time monitor BOTH messages in order to detect target words. Treisman's is the model most appropriate at present. 3. whereas Deutsch and Deutsch's Model would predict no difference (as both messages would be fully analysed). seems rather uneconomical. AGAINST THE MODEL 1. However. 28 . it typically shows that the initial response to the unattended message is much weaker than the response to the attended message. Physiological evidence also supports Treisman.

named after JR Stroop (1935) who devised a colour naming experiment. We should also consider the difficulty of each of the tasks separately. and cannot be brought under conscious control. the name of the word is automatically processed. participants would see the word BLUE but it would be written in red ink and their task would be to say RED'. such things as steering. Also. Stroop found that participants were much slower at naming the ink colours when the stimuli were themselves colour words. This interferes with the participants' ability to process and name the ink colour (RED). Problems often arise for the learner driver when they are required to do two or more things at once eg brake and change down gear. The development of automatic processing has a major advantage in that it reduces the number and amount of things that we have to attend to consciously. learner drivers can become so engrossed in such things as changing gear that they fail to attend to what is happening on the road in front of them! Yet to drive competently frequently requires a driver to do two or more things virtually simultaneously. However.A frequently quoted example of this is learning to drive a car. The difficulty experiences in naming the ink colour of the colour words is therefore the consequence of an overlearned skill. a task that is difficult for one person may be straightforward for another (eg when we first learn to drive). How does the transformation from learner to expert occur? The concepts of AUTOMATIC and CONTROLLED processing have been used to explain this transformation. psychologists such as Gleitman (1981) have pointed out that automatic processing can produce interference which actually lowers performance on certain tasks. Thus the scarce resource of conscious attention is released for other tasks. as any driving instructor will tell you. The basic idea is simple . all require a great deal of concentration. DIVIDED ATTENTION Can we do two things at once? TASK DIFFICULTY An obvious factor determining how well we can perform two tasks together is their level of difficulty. In particular it has been suggested that the Stroop effect produces a 'mental race' between the 2 processes involved in naming colours. For exarnple. The experiment involved participants naming colours as quickly as possible. but the words themselves were colour names. In one condition participants named patches of colour. A classic example of this is the STROOP EFFECT. thus delaying their response. One explanation for the Stroop Effect is that we automatically process the meaning of words. Thus when a participant sees the word BLUE but is supposed to respond to the ink colour and say RED. PRACTICE 29 . When you first learn to drive. skills which initially required a considerable amount of attention become virtually automatic.with practice. the reading response wins the race and slows the colour naming. braking and changing gear. in a second condition participants had to name the ink colour in which words were printed. However.

Allport et al 1972 found when 2 shadowing tasks were dissimilar . People can attend to more than one thing at a time as long as the total mental effort required does not exceed the total capacity available. he or she will have some attentional capacity left over.90% of the pictures were recognised. TASK SIMILARITY It may well be that the inability to report much about the non-shadowed message in the shadowing situation is due to the great similarity between the 2 inputs . the standard shadowing task and the task of learning pictorial information . In Kahneman's model allocation of attentional resources depends on a CENTRAL ALLOCATION POLICY for dividing available attention between competing demands. On the demand side. novel and complicated tasks cannot. e. The students were first of all asked to read short stories for comprehension while writing down words at dictation. 30 . and so less attention needs to be allocated to that activity. the actual driving of the car goes into 'autopilot'. however. highly practised and simple tasks can typically be performed well together. the more skilled an individual the less mental effort is required. The extent to which 2 tasks can be performed successfully together seems to depend on a number of factors: 3. And yet some form of unconscious monitoring of environmental requirements must be going on to enable us to deal with sudden emergencies. To begin with their reading speed and their handwriting during dictation both suffered substantially. whereas 4. Spelke et al l976 demonstrated the value of practice with 2 subjects (Diane and John) who were given approximately 90 hours of training on a variety of tasks. their reading speed and comprehension had both improved up to the levels they displayed when not taking dictation and their handwriting was also better quality. Once a decision has been made to drive somewhere. Dual task experiments imply that some well-learnt skills are virtually automatic.g. After 30 hours of practice. two similar. If a person is both motivated (which increases attentional capacity) and skilled (which decreases the amount of attention needed). Two dissimilar. 2. On the capacity side. when someone is aroused and alert. learner drivers have difficulty doing the 2 tasks.both English prose passages presented in an auditory fashion.for example. KAHNEMAN'S CAPACITY THEORY OF ATTENTION Kahneman (1973) proposed that there is a certain amount of ATTENTIONAL CAPAClTY available which has to be allocated among the various demands made on it.While experienced drivers can converse and drive at the same time. the attention demanded by a particular activity is defined in terms of MENTAL EFFORT. Once a task has become automatic it requires little mental effort and therefore we can attend to more than one automatic task at any one time. driving and talking. they have more attentional resources available than when they are lethargic.

using different operations. attention involves constant perceptual evaluation of the demands required to produce appropriate responses. as what makes the homunculus make decisions . The need for a homunculus to make decisions is a weakness of a psychological theory. Cheng (1985) points out that when tasks have been learnt we change the way we process and organise them. (2) Attention is largely top-down process as opposed to the Filter Models which suggest a bottom-up process. The answer is quicker because we have processed the information differently. For example. not because we have added ten two's 'automatically'. (4) Rather than a one-way flow of information from input through to responses. add 4 and 2 to make 6. 2. When we have more arithmetical knowledge and realise that adding ten two's is the same as multiplying 2 x 10. Indeed young children when first learning arithmetic would do just this.another little person inside him(her) ???? 31 . (3) The focus of interest is the way the central allocation policy is operated so as to share appropriate amounts of attention between skilled automatic tasks and more dimcult tasks which require a lot of mental effort. add 6 and 2 to make 8. but this is not necessarily 'automaticity'. the solution can be produced in one step.Kahneman's Capacity Model of Attention (1) Attention is a central dynamic process rather than the result of automatic filtering of perceptual input. if asked to add ten two's you could add 2 and 2 to make 4. add 8 and 2 to make 10 etc. A MAJOR PROBLEM with Kahneman's theory is that is does not explain how the allocation system decides on policies for allocating attentional resources tasks. EVALUATION OF KAHNEMAN'S MODEL 1.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful