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Attention & Consciousness

Attention - means by which we actively process a limited amount of info from
the enormous amount of info available
- includes both conscious & unconscious processes
- allows us to use our limited mental resources judiciously
- heightened focus increases likelihood we can respond speedily &
accurately to interesting stimuli
Consciousness - both the feeling of awareness & the content of awareness (some
may be under the focus of attention)
~ attention & consciousness form 2 partially overlapping sets
Purpose of conscious attention in playing a causal role for cognition
1. Monitor interactions w/ the environment
- maintain awareness of how well we’re adapting to the situation we find ourselves
2. Assists in linking our past (memories) & present (sensations) to give us a sense of continuity of experience
- continuity may serve as basis for personal identity
3. Helps in controlling & planning for future actions
- can be done based on info from 1 & 2
Main Functions of Attention
1. Signal detection & vigilance - detecting appearance of a particular stimulus
2. Search - we try to find a signal amidst distracters
3. Selective attention - choosing to attend some stimuli & ignore others
4. Divided attention - prudently allocating available attentional resources to coordinate
performance of more than 1 task at a time
Attending to Signals Over the Short & Long Terms
Signal Detection: Finding Important Stimuli in a Crowd
Signal-detection theory (SDT) - framework to explain how people pick out the few important
stimuli when embedded in a wealth of irrelevant, distracting stimuli
- often used to measure sensitivity to a target’s presence
Possible outcomes when trying to detect a target stimulus (signal)
1. Hits - true positives
- correctly identifies presence of a target
2. False alarms - false positives
- incorrectly identifies presence of a target that is actually absent
3. Misses - fails to observe the presence of a target
4. Correct rejections - true negatives
- correctly identifies the absence of a target
Sensitivity - measured in terms of: hits – false alarms
SDT in the context of:
1. Attention - paying enough attention to perceive objects that are there
2. Perception - perceiving faint signals that may/may not be beyond your
perceptual range


stand out in the display Conjunction search .scan the environment for a distinct feature .indicating whether you’ve been exposed to a stimulus before Vigilance: Waiting to Detect a Signal Vigilance . Burst .explains the relative ease of conducting feature searches and the relative difficulty of conducting conjunction searches Treisman’s Model: ~ For each possible feature of a stimulus.nontarget stimuli that divert our attention away from the target stimulus .scan of the environment for particular features .does not refer to the size of the items or even the size of the field on which the array is displayed Display-size effect .degree to which the number of items in a display hinders (slows down) the search process Feature search . we monitor the relevant feature map for the presence of any activation anywhere in the visual field ~ Monitoring process can be done in parallel (all at once).involved in vigilance Specific activation states a.result of relative hyperpolarization of the resting membrane potential b.number of items in a given visual array . Feature-integration theory .person’s ability to attend to a field of stimulation over a prolonged period.usually cause false alarms Display size .needed in settings where a given stimulus occurs only rarely but requires immediate attention as soon as it does occur Amygdala .results from relative depolarization Sleep: neurons are hyperpolarized and in burst mode higher levels of vigilance are associated with tonic discharges Search: Actively Looking Search .3.plays a pivotal role in the recognition of emotional stimuli .important brain structure in the regulation of vigilance Thalamus . Tonic .distracters play little role in slowing search Featural singletons . no display size effects 2 . during which the person seeks to detect the appearance of a particular target stimulus of interest .items with distinctive features.look for a particular combination of features Search Process Theories 1. Memory .actively looking for something when you are not sure where it will appear Distracters . each of us has a mental map for representing the given feature across the visual field ~ There is no added time required for additional cognitive processing ~ During feature searches.

Similarity Theory .person chooses the true targets from the activated elements ~ Younger adults’ searches were more accurate and faster than the searches of the older adults ~ Participants were slower by approximately 300 milliseconds when doing guided searches as compared with feature searches ~ Older adults’ critical volume was lower than that of the younger adults ^ consistent with an approximate decline in volume of 2% per decade Occipito-temporal cortex .~ During conjunction searches.required to repeat back only one of the messages as soon as possible after you hear it Dichotic presentation .nearly optimal strategy of activating neurons that best distinguish between the target and distracters while at the same time ignoring the neurons that are tuned best to the target 2. Parallel stage . so does the difficulty in detecting the target stimuli . conjoining each object one by listen to two different messages .does not depend on the number of features to be integrated i.task devised by Colin Cherry .individual sequentially evaluates each of the activated elements.suggests that all searches.process of tracking one conversation in the face of the distraction of other conversations Shadowing .targets that are highly similar to distracters are relatively hard to detect 3. rhythmicity) 3 . pacing.g.identified by David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel . horizontal) Best search strategy . Criticsm of Treisman’s model . Representation .not for the brain to increase the activity of neurons that respond to the particular target stimuli . high vs.activated in older adults even in easier search tasks Selective Attention Cocktail party problem .activation process of the parallel initial stage helps to guide the evaluation and selection process of the serial second stage of the search a. involve two consecutive stages .individual simultaneously activates a mental representation of all the potential targets i. an additional stage of processing is needed ^ additional stage conjoins two or more features into an object representation at a particular location ~ Must be carried out sequentially.more activated in younger adults in more difficult search tasks . display size effect Specific neural feature detector .difficulty of search tasks depends on the degree of disparity among the distracters .g.presenting a separate message to each ear Factors to Help Selective Attention 1. low pitch. whether feature searches or conjunction searches. Guided Search Theory . according to the degree of activation . Distinctive sensory characteristics of the target’s speech (e. Serial stage . are a result of the fact that as the similarity between target and distracter stimuli increases.cortical neurons that respond differentially to visual stimuli of particular orientations (e.based on the simultaneous activation of each of the features of the target b.

instead of blocking stimuli out. controlled processes .had participants shadowing coherent messages. Filter . Channel . working memory) 4 . Attentive.can be used to notice only physical sensory characteristics of the unattended message .permits only one channel of sensory information to proceed and reach the processes of perception .location of the filter is even later .g. Attenuation Model (Anne Treisman) . Selective Filter Model (Moray) .we assign meaning to our sensations 2.g.multiple channels of sensory input reach an attentional filter i.suggested that stimuli are filtered out only after they have been analyzed for both their physical properties and their meaning .do not discern meaning or relationships 2. Location of the sound source ~ Spatial cues are less important than factors like how harmonious and rhythmic the target sounds Theories of Selective Attention Filter theories .even when participants ignore most other high-level (e. pitch.automatic processes are rapid and occur in parallel . the filter merely weakens (attenuates) the strength of stimuli other than the target stimulus . semantic) aspects of an unattended message. slightly out of temporal synchronization.participants notice if the messages are identical.selective filter blocks out most information at the sensory level i.slows down info passing through 1. Preattentive processes . Sound intensity (loudness) 3.we filter information right after we notice it at the sensory level . or accent ii.later filtering would allow people to recognize information entering the unattended ear .messages that are of high importance to a person may break through the filter of selective attention . Late-Filter Model (Deutsch & Detusch) .propose that there is an attentional bottleneck through which only a single source of information can pass Synthesis of Early-Filter and Late-Filter Models Processes Governing Attention (Ulric Neisser) 1.2. executed serially and consume time and attentional resources (e. or translated 4.participants picked up the first few words of the message they had been shadowing in the unattended ear so they must have been somehow processing the content of the unattended message . Broadbent’s Model . they frequently still recognize their names in an unattended ear 3.blocks some of the information going through and thereby selects only a part of the total of information to pass through to the next stage Bottleneck theories . and at some point switched the remainder of the coherent message from the attended to the unattended ear .. Criticism of Broadbent .distinguished by their characteristics like loudness.occur later.

Anxiety .a. Attentional-resources theory .particularly influences performance during divided attention 4.norepinephrine  maintenance of alertness Orienting . and maintaining this attention .people have a fixed amount of attention that they can choose to allocate according to what the task requires 1.places constraints on attention 2.k.. Skills .selection of stimuli to attend to  needed in visual search 5 . . attentional blink .attention more enhanced when more practiced/skilled Neuroscience and Attention: A Network Model Posner: attentional system in the brain “is neither a property of a single brain area nor of the entire brain Alerting .oversimplified .g.practice effects may be observed ~ As each of the complex tasks becomes increasingly automatized. performance of each task makes fewer demands on limited-capacity attentional resources Divided Attention in Everyday Life .people can accommodate fairly easily perceptual processing of the physical properties of sensory stimuli while engaged in a second speeded task ^ they cannot readily accomplish more than one cognitive task Theories of Divided Attention .can be used to observe relationships among features .includes the process of getting to this state of preparedness Dysfunction: ADHD i. Brain areas involved .some attentional resources may be specific to the modality (e. Task difficulty .2 discrete controlled tasks may be automatized to function together as a unit but tasks are not fully automatic Psychological refractory period (PRP) . Neurotransmitter .being prepared to attend to some incoming event.serve to synthesize fragments into a mental representation of an object Investigating Divided Attention in the Lab Neisser & Becklen: improvements in performance eventually would have occurred as a result of practice .controlled tasks can be automatized so that they consume fewer attentional resources .hypothesized that the performance of multiple tasks was based on skill resulting from practice ^ not to be based on special cognitive mechanisms .sometimes excitement enhances attention 3.single pool of attentional resources that can be divided freely . Resource theory . verbal or visual) in which a task is presented .people are much better at dividing their attention when competing tasks are in different modalities .right frontal & parietal cortexes .locus coeruleus ii. Arousal .driving: distractions  accidents Factors That Influence Our Ability to Pay Attention 1.complements filter theories 2.better metaphor for explaining phenomena of divided attention on complex tasks .slowing resulting from simultaneous engagement in speeded tasks a.

o. Inspection time . Metadate.intelligence comprises multiple independent constructs 6 . & Strattera (non-stimulant.amount of time it takes you to inspect items and make a decision about them . and medial cortical regions of the brain ~ arousal is an essential antecedent to selective and divided attention a.inattention. the temporal parietal junction.model of intelligence that takes attention into account Successive Process Model of Human Cognition PASS i. prefrontal cortex.orienting network develops at 1 y. lateral ventral. Heinrich Hoffman in 1845 i. Neurotransmitter . Attention. borderline personality disorder.speed of neuronal conduction i. and Simultaneous– . Dysfunction: autism i. Hyperactive. Luria’s theory of intelligence .have difficulties in focusing their attention in ways that enable (ADHD) them to adapt in optimal ways to their environment .final and highest order of attentional process Dysfunction: Alzheimer’s disease. and the superior colliculus ii.primarily attributed to the brainstem. basal ganglia ii.anterior cingulate.parietal lobe. Symptoms . responses) .shorter inspection times correlate w/ higher scores on intelligence tests ~ task requires concentrated bursts of focused attention b. Brain areas involved . the frontal eye fields. Medications Ritalin. affects dopamine .time it takes to select one answer from among several possibilities Why Our Attention Fails Us 1.first described by Dr. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder . Arousal & attention . Brain areas involved . hyperactivity ii.acetylcholine Executive attention .more given to boys . Choice reaction time .processes for monitoring and resolving conflicts that arise among internal processes (thoughts. affects norepi) ^ ^ stimulant.assumes that intelligence consists of an assortment of functional units that are the basis for specific actions Processing Units (PASS) 1. Types a. & schizophrenia i. Response time . Inattentive c. diencephalon. . feelings.impulsive used in combi w/ behavioural interventions Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Gardner) .dopamine Intelligence and Attention Planning. Neurotransmitter . Combination of both iii.

involves no conscious effort ~ relative stability & familiarity of stimulus govern these processes ~ an attentional phenomenon that differs from the physiological phenomenon of sensory adaptation Sensory adaptation . ~ occur automatically.a.internal variation w/in a stimulus .ringing in the ears . most often in the right hemisphere i.often draw only one side of the picture Extinction .performed serially Automatization .involve no conscious control .becoming accustomed to a stimulus so that we gradually pay less and less attention to it Dishabituation . Testing . unintentional 3. responsivity.2.process where tasks that start off as controlled processes eventually become automatic ones as a result of practice a.attentional dysfunction in which participants ignore the half of their visual field that is contralateral to (on the opposite side of) the hemisphere of the brain that has a lesion .accessible to conscious control and even require it .parallel processes 1.lessening of attention to a stimulus that is not subject to conscious control .relative complexity of stimulus Arousal .reason: inability to disengage attention from the stimulus in the ipsilateral field in order then to shift their attention to the contralateral visual field Habituation .subjective arousal .phenomenon in which people are not able to see things that are actually there 3. concealed from consciousness 2. consume few attentional resources Controlled processes .have problems habituating to auditory stimuli Automatic and Controlled Processes in Attention Automatic processes .bisect horizontal lines on a sheet of paper . not in the brain i.doesn’t occur when stimulus is presented to only 1 side . and readiness for action.when stimuli are present in both sides of the visual field.change in a familiar stimulus prompts us to start noticing the stimulus again. Change blindness . Spatial neglect/ hemi-neglect . Factors that influence habituation . proceduralization 7 . people with hemi-neglect suddenly ignore the stimuli that are contralateral to their lesion . relative to a baseline Tinnitus .used to observe habituation at the physiological level .degree of physiological excitation.inability to detect changes in objects or scenes that are being viewed Inattentional blindness .result mainly of unilateral lesions in the parietal and frontal lobes.k.occurs directly in the sense organ.

during the course of practice. .participants are presented with a first stimulus (the prime). that are normally automated Stroop effect .gradually combines individual effortful steps into integrated components that are further integrated until the whole process is one single operation Instance theory (Logan) -suggested that automatization occurs because we gradually accumulate knowledge about specific responses to specific stimuli Automatization in Everyday Life Dyslexia . implementation of the various steps becomes more efficient .participants are presented with a second stimulus and make a judgment to see whether the presentation of the first stimulus affected the perception of the second ~ presentation of the first stimulus may activate related concepts in memory that are then more easily accessible Tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon .information that is available for cognitive processing but that currently lies outside conscious awareness . mental pathways interfere w/ each other Types of errors – p. followed by a break that can range from milliseconds to weeks or months .traces of visual perceptual ability in blind areas 8 .automatization is impaired . in addition to reading. Process .involved when one is experiencing the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon Blindsight .named after John Ridley Stroop .you try to remember something that is stored in memory but that cannot readily be retrieved Anterior cingulateprefrontal cortices .demonstrates the psychological difficulty in selectively attending to the color of the ink and trying to ignore the word that is printed with the ink of that color .effects of practice show a negatively accelerated curve i.automatization of reading.includes stored memories that we are not using at a given time but that we could summon when needed Priming . but that belief is likely to be flawed Preconscious Processing . 176 Consciousness Protocol analysis .analyzing people’s solving of problems ~ you may believe you know why you made the decision.have difficulty completing tasks.used to study things that currently lie outside the conscious awareness .