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Describe different types of attention and discuss the value and importance of the

existence of different types of attention.

Attention is not a single concept, but the name for a variety of psychological
phenomena1. While most research has been involved with visual and auditory
attention, we can as well attend to smells, tastes, sensations and proprioceptive
information. Memory is intimately related to attention. We seem to remember what
we have attended to. Although the subject may not be explicitly able to recall, at
conscious level, that some particular information was presented, unattended
stimuli has an effect, by biasing or priming, subsequent responses. If a stimulus is
apparently unattended it seems to have to be unconscious.

According to James S. Hans, attention is the most profound link we have

to the world2, the chemistry that glues us to the processes that occur
regardless of our presence within them. Humans have developed various
modes of attention to address the many circumstances of their lives.

Posner (1993) divides work on attention into three phases. First, in the 1950s and
1960s, research centred on human performance, and on the concept of the human
as a single channel processor. In the 1970s and early 1980s the field of study had
become Cognition and research was most concerned with looking for and studying
internal representations, automatic and controlled processes and strategies for
focusing and dividing attention. By the mid 1980s, Cognitive neuroscience was
the name of the game and psychologists were account taking account of biology,
neuropsychological patients and computing.

Welford (1952) carried out an experiment which showed that, when two signals are
presented in rapid succession and the subject must make a speed response to both,
reaction time to the second stimulus depends on the stimulus onset asynchrony
(SOA) between the presentation of the first and the second stimulus. He introduced
the concept of the bottleneck, where the processing of the first stimulus must
be completed before processing of the next stimulus can begin 3.

Auditory Selective Attention

1 Elizabeth A. Styles, The Psychology of attention, p. 1 Psychology Press, 1997

2 The Mysteries of Attention, p 41, State University of New York Press, 1993

3 Elizabeth A. Styles, The Psychology of attention, p. 13 Psychology Press, 1997

Almost all the early experiment on attention used auditory stimuli. E. Colin Cherry
(1953) performed experiments in which two auditory messages were presented
simultaneously, one to each ear (dichotic presentation). Dichotic presentation gives
a listener the experience of two streams of sound, each localized roughly at the ear
of input. In a selective attention task, Cherry instructed his subjects to attend to
the message presented to one ear and shadow the other messages which is
simultaneously presented to the other ear. As a result, he observed: first, subjects
found it easy to carry out the task, which Cherry thought remarkable in itself the
results confirmed that a listener can selectively attend to stimuli that possess some
common physical feature and can reject stimuli that does not possess that future;
his second observation was that when subjects were asked, after they had finished
shadowing, to describe the contents of the rejected message, they could say almost
nothing about it, except that sounds had been present. They rarely noticed when
the message on the rejected ear started out in English and then switched to

On the other hand, when the speaker switched gender (and pitch), or when speech
was replaced with 400-Hz tone, listeners almost always noticed and remarked on it.
Cherry concluded that certain statistical properties (of the rejected message are)
identified, but that detailed aspects, such as language, individual words, or
semantic content are unnoticed.

Broadbent (1958) proposed a new conception of the mind, in which psychological

processes could be described by the flow of information within the nervous system. 4
One of Broadbents conclusion was that the whole nervous system could be
regarded as a single channel which was limited in the rate at which the information
could be transmitted. According to him, the limited capacity section of nervous
system would need to be preceded by a selective filter, or switch, which protected
the system from overload and passed on only some small, selected portion of the
incoming information. All other information was blocked. He stressed upon the
necessity for a short-term buffer store that preceded the selective filter. This buffer
was a temporary memory store in which the selected information could be held, in
parallel, for short periods of time. The model has became known as Broadbents
Filter Theory.

In this model, although information enters the system in parallel, it is held only
temporarily in the buffer memory. Unless information is selected to pass through
the filter for further processing, that information is lost. (...) This means that
selection from the parallel inputs is made at early levels of processing and is
therefore an early selection model5.

4 Ibidem, p.15

5 Ibidem, p.17
Selective attention helps us to protect from overloaded our information-processing
system. If attention needed to be divided between both ears to monitor both
messages at once, then the filter was said to be able to switch rapidly between
channels on the basis of the spatial location or physical characteristics of
information in the sensory buffer.

Broadbent (1954) experimented on the division of attention using simultaneous,

dichotic presentation, which became known as split-span technique. He concluded
that, even in a simple task (the listener is asked to recall six digits, arranged in
three successive pairs and presented simultaneously to the right year and to the left
one) is seemed that people could not attend at the same time to both channels

According to Broadbent, we only seem to be able to do two tasks at the same time,
when those tasks can proceed momentarily without attention, allowing time for
rapid switching between them.

Later, his theory was challenged by Moray (1959), who found that listeners often
recognized their own name when it was presented on the unshadowed and, in
theory, unattended ear. This was quite contradictory to the notion of selective filter
that allowed input to the serial, limited capacity channel only of the basis of
physical attributes. Moray concluded that there must be some parallel semantic
processing prior to conscious identification. Anne Treisman (1960) showed that,
even if a subject is attending to the stream of events on one channel, there may be
information breakthrough from unattended channel. Other theories suggested that
the selective bottleneck between pre-attentive parallel processing and serial
attentive processing could move according to different circumstances and task

The role of selective attention

Controlling order of readout a task required sequential responses to items in

various locations could not be carried out with the recognition system alone.

Reducing crosstalk. Deploying attention to one or a small number of items at once

will reduce or eliminate crosstalk.


Sustained attention and Vigilance

Mackworth (1957) defined the vigilance as a state of readiness to detect and

respond to certain small changes occurring at random time intervals in the
environment. Many perceptual and cognitive activities demand sustained attention
if they have to be executed successfully and efficiently. Maintaining attention to a
single source of information for an unbroken period of time is relatively easy for
intrinsically interesting activities or for those carried out in a rich environment, such
as solving a challenging problem or an absorbing play 6. But if the problem resists
solution, or the playing is dull, remaining attentive is much more difficult. The
difficulty is compounded if attention has to be maintained on some source for the
occurrence of infrequent but critical events. The processes that govern the ability to
maintain attention and remain vigilant for such events for long periods of time
forms the focus on sustained attention or vigilance. Henry Head (1923) defined
vigilance as a state of high grade efficiency of the central nervous system. 7 In his
book Varieties of attention, Raja Parasuraman distinguishes between vigilance and
arousal, defining the later one as a general state of the organism that affects the
ability of the organism to carry out various function of attention, including
remaining vigilant. Attention posses an intensive and a selective dimension. Thus,
vigilance is sustained attention over a period of time. During the course of vigil,
which may last from about 30 minutes to 3 hours or more, detection rate typically
declines and detection latency increases8.

Repetitive presentation of the same stimulus, for example, may temporary inhibit
receptivity to that stimulus, a phenomenon called as habituation. On the other
hand, receptivity to all or broad class of stimuli may be affected because the
individuals general state, or arousal, has been altered. These two causes of
changes in receptivity may loosely be identified as the phasic and tonic aspects of
alertness, respectively.

In reaction-time tasks, phasic changes in alertness affect the criterion responding.

The observer who adopts a risky criterion responds quickly, but at the expense of
making errors. A conservative criterion reduces mistakes, but prolongs reaction
time. That is why, generally, fast responses are based on less accumulative
information and are therefore error prone. However, this is true only for unlimited-
hold signals that are present until the subject responds. For limited-hold signals or
transient signals, a fast response may be based on more accumulative information
than a slower response, because there is a decay in the quality of the accumulated
information once the signal is terminated. Thus, a fast response may be more
accurate than slow response.

Kahneman (1973) suggested that processing resources (or effort) are mobilized in
response to task demands, and that there is a fixed allocation of effort for each task.
Time pressure increases processing demands. Davies found that the level of

6 Raja Parasurman, Varieties of Attention, Academic Press, Inc, 1984, p. 243

7 Ibidem

8 Ibidem, p. 418
performance improves from morning to afternoon testing for an auditory
simultaneous-discrimination task. For successive-discrimination task, however,
performance deteriorated from morning to afternoon. In addition, the sensitivity
decline over time on task for the successive-discrimination task occurred both in the
morning and in the afternoon.

Vigilance can be affected by sleeping loss, variations in ambient temperature, both

stimulant and depressant drugs, noise.

Divided attention

Focused attention is required to attend to the relevant subset of the possible

information sources and to ignore all else, but divided attention is required to attend
simultaneously to the two or more important sources of information. For example, a
skilled musician must divide his attention between reading a score, playing the
instrument and following the directions of a conductor. In fact, demands on our
attention first become evident when we are required to do several things at once 9.
Most real-world tasks have both divided and focused attention components.

The control of attention in visual search

Visual search is an active interrogation of the visual world during which people
detect and use meaningful patterns of relationships to decide where to look first and
in what sequence to seek for further information. People also actively look for some
things rather than others. There are two types of active control: knowing where to
look and the control of what to look for.

9 Johnson, Addie, Attention. Theory and Practice, SAGE Publications, 2004, p. 163
Johnson and Dark (1986) looked at theories of selective attention and
divided them into cause theories and effect theories. p 6.

Attention research begun in 1950


top-down process



memory is intimately related to attention .

normanl attentional orienting and attentional deficit chapter 4 Styles


During the Second World War people realized how limited are their ability to act on
multiple signals arriving on different channels.

Attention is taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form of one
out of what seems several simultaneously possible object or trains of
thought. Focalization, concentration of consciousness are of its essence. It
implies withdrawal of some things in order to deal effectively with others

Attention Paul Bakan

Human performance is the result of two qualitatively different processes referred to

as automatic and control processing and describes many of the attentional
phenomena in terms of this distinction10.

Automatic processing is a fast parallel, fairly effortless process, that is not limited by
short-term memory (STM) capacity, is not under direct subject control, and is
responsible for the performance of well-developed skilled behaviors. Automatic
processing typically develops when subjects process stimuli consistent over many
trials. For example, practice at dialing a specific phone number several hundred
times will develop automatic processes to produce that phone number. Dialing that
number becomes fast and fairly effortless, can be done while engaged in other
activities, and can even occur unintentionally (dialing ones number while
attempting to dial another number with the same starting sequence.

Control processing is characterized as a slow, generally serial, effortful, capacity-

limited, subject regulated processing mode that must be used to deal with novel or
10 Varieties of Attention, Academic Press, Inc 1984
inconsistent information. Control processing is expected when the subjects
response to the stimuli varies from trial to trial.

Attentional Paradigms

Selective Attention

The process of selective attention is one in which `the organism selectively attends
to some stimuli, or aspects of stimuli, in preference to others`. (Kahneman, 1973,
p.3). This concept presupposes that there is some bottleneck, or capacity limitation,
in the processing system and that subjects have the ability to give preference to
certain stimuli so that they pass through this bottleneck easily and at the expense
of other stimuli. Probably the best-known real life example of selective attention is
listening to a single voice in a room full of people talking at the same time. There
are many variants of selective attention. Attention tasks are classified according to
what they require the subject to select: inputs (or stimuli) from a particular source;
targets of a particular type; a particular attribute of objects; outputs (or responses)
in a particular category.

Intensive aspects of attention

There is more to attention than mere selection. According to the dictionary, to

attend is to apply oneself presumably to some task or activity. Selection is implied,
because there are always alternative activities in which one could engage, but
applying oneself is only a matter of degree. Berlyne (1960) suggested that the
intensity of attention is related to the level of arousal, that arousal can be measured
with the aid of electrophysiological techniques, and that is largely controlled by the
properties of the stimuli to which the organism is exposed.

There is growing agreement that these varieties of selective attention are governed
by different rules and are to be explained by different mechanisms 11. Berlyne
pioneered in the study of collative properties, such as novelty, complexity, and
incongruity, which cause some stimuli to be more arousing than others. Berlyne was
mainly concerned with involuntary attention.

In voluntary attention the subject attends to stimuli because they are relevant to a
task that he has chosen to perform, not because of their arousing quality.

Bottleneck models of attention

One of the classic dilemmas of psychology concerns the division of attention among
concurrent streams of mental activity. The bottleneck is defined as a stage of
internal processing which can only operate one stimulus or one response

11 Kahneman, Daniel, Attention and Effort, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1973

at a time. Several studies revealed that selective attention to inputs affects
perceptual analysis. However, man is also capable of dividing his attention between
different messages. Thus, one of the main conclusion of the research on attention is
that mans cognitive operation are far more flexible than either of this bottleneck
theories would suggest. While the allocation of attention is flexible and highly
responsive to the intention of the moment, there are pre-attentive mechanisms that
operate autonomously, outside voluntary control. These provide a preliminary
organization to perception by a process of groping and segmentation.

On the other hand, a capacity model of attention provides an alternative to

theories which explain mans limitations by assuming the existence of structural
bottlenecks. Instead of such bottlenecks, a capacity theory assumes that
there is a general limit on mans capacity to perform mental work. It also
assumes that this limited capacity can be allocated with considerable freedom
among concurrent activities. A capacity theory is a theory of how one pays attention
to objects and to acts. For instance, momentary variations in the difficulty of what a
subject is trying to do are faithfully reflected in variations of his arousal level. There
seem to be little reason for such arousal variations if energy transfer plays no
significant role in the system. In addition, the ability to perform several mental
activities concurrently depends, at least in part, on the effort which each of these
activities demands when performed in isolation. The driver who interrupts a
conversation to make a turn is an example.

Divided attention

Divided attention occurs when we are required to perform two (or more) tasks at the same time and attention is required for the
performance of both (all) the tasks12. Examples include driving a car whilst carrying on a conversation with a passenger and eating
dinner whilst watching the news. When people are required to do more than one task at a time, performance on at least one of the
tasks often declines. It is generally agreed that humans have a limited capacity to process information and when several tasks are
performed at the same time, that capacity can be exceeded.

When an individual performs a task, different mental operations need to take place in order to carry out the task or mental activity for
example, responding, rehearsing and perceiving. Theories of perceptual attention treat the perceptual system as a limited resource
to be allocated amongst these tasks as performance would require some of the individual?s limited processing resources. An
individual?s inability at times to effectively time-share attention may be attributed to the fact that the resources are limited. However,
on the other hand, different activities may demand different types of resources, therefore resulting in less competition for the limited
resources and more successful time-sharing.

An individual?s ability to successfully time-share may be influenced by:

their ability to schedule tasks so that they do not interfere with one another

their ability to effectively switch between tasks in order to complete them in parallel. This ability may further be affected

o Confusion ? this results when elements of the tasks become confused due to their similarity, e.g. trying to listen
to two speakers at once who are delivering similar messages.

o Co-operation ? similarity of tasks can result in co-operation or integration of the two tasks into one, e.g. a piano
and a drum being played sharing a common rhythm.

o Competition for the resource.

the difficulty of the tasks to be completed

Single resource theoryand the multiple resource theory. The single resource theory proposes that there is a single
undifferentiated pool of resources available to all tasks and mental activities.
Multiple resource theory proposes that instead of one pool of resources, there are several different, dichotomous
dimensions of resources.
In addition to the explanations offered by these theories, it is essential to note that individual differences will influence
time-sharing effectiveness. These individual difference will include such the expertise/skill of the performer (on one or both
tasks) through practise or a natural ability.

Focused Attention

Focused attention studies examine the ability of subjects to reject irrelevant messages. A clasic
example involving the need to ignore irrelevant inputs is a cocktail party situation in which a
guest tries to listen to one conversation and ignore all others.

Attentional Capacity and Effort

Much research in attention assumes that there is a limited poop af attentional resourses, or
capacity, that can bi distributed across tasks. According to simple capacity models, if the subject
has 100 units of capacity and is required to perform two tasks each requiring 75 units,
performance should decline when shifting from performing the task individually to performing
the simultaneously.

Automatic-control processing theory assumes attentional capacity limitations are the result of
competition between control processes. Hence combining tasks in which control capacity is
exceeded should result in reduced performance.

The experiments indicate that subjects find continual control processing very effortful, and
reduction in effort result in performance decrements.


Such factor as motivation, personality, perception or experiential factors play an important role
in vigilance behavior.
Attention in learning , Tom Trabasso carte albastra p 2