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General Psychology

Attention, Sensation and Perception

Sensation: incoming of sensory messages
Attention: focus on stimulus Perception: meaningful sensation

The meaning of Attention

Attention Is the means by which we actively process a limited amount of information from the enormous amount of information available through our senses, our stored memories, and our other cognitive processes
Sternberg (1999): Attention acts as a means of focusing limited mental resources on the information and cognitive processes that are most salient at a given moment

Consciousness: More directly concerned with

awareness it includes both the feeling of awareness and the content of awareness, some of which may be under the focus of attention

4 interrelated ideas about attention

First, we are constantly confronted with much more

information than we can pay attention to;

Second, there are serious limitations in how much we can

attend to any at one time;

Third, we can respond to some information and perform

some tasks with little if any attention;

Fourth, with sufficient practice and knowledge, some tasks

become less and less demanding of our attentional processes.


Controlled Versus Automatic Processes of Attention

Controlled processes

awareness; consume many attentional resources; performed serially; relatively slow Automatic Processes Little or no intention or effort; occur outside of conscious awareness; do not require a lot of attention, performed by parallel processing; fast

Require intentional effort; full conscious

Controlled Versus Automatic Processes

Many tasks that start off as controlled processes

eventually become automatic ones due to repetitive practice Automatization

The process by which a procedure changes from being

highly conscious to being relatively automatic

Theories of automaticity
Two main theories have been proposed, one by Posner

and Snyder, and one by Shiffrin and Schneider. They differ in some of their details but are similar in their overall message.

Posner and Schneiders 3 characteristics of an automatic process

The process occurs without intention,

without a conscious decision;

The mental process is not open to conscious

awareness or introspection;
The process consumes few if any conscious

resources; that is, it consumes little if any conscious attention.


Controlled processing
The process occurs only with intention, with a deliberate

The process is open to awareness and introspection The process uses conscious resources


We become accustomed to a stimulus, we gradually

notice it less and less (e.g. music and studying)

A change in a familiar stimulus prompts us to start

noticing the stimulus again

Sensory adaptation
Physiological phenomenon; not subject to conscious

control; occurs directly in the sense organ, not in the brain


Types of attention
1. 2.

Selective Attention Vigilance and Signal Detection Theory


1. Selective Attention
The ability to attend to one source of information while ignoring or excluding ongoing messages around us.


Selective Attention and the Cocktail Party Effect

Filtering or selecting: When you try to ignore the

many stimuli or events around you so you can focus on just one, the ones you are trying to ignore are distractions that must be eliminated or excluded. The mental process of eliminating those distractions, eliminating unwanted messages, is called filtering or selecting.


Selective Attention
Shadowing Task/ Dichotic listening task
Different messages are presented to each of a

participants ears S/he is asked to shadow or repeat one of the messages on-line Questions about the message in the unattended ear Only the physical characteristics of unattended message could be reported e.g. gender of voice (Cherry, 1953)


Broadbents Filter TheorySelective Attention

In Broadbents view, the auditory mechanism acts as a selective filter; regardless of how many competing channels or messages are coming in, the filter can be tuned, or switched, to any one of the messages, based on characteristics such as loudness or pitch.




Broadbents filter theory of selective attention


Broadbent Model
But counter evidence suggests that the meaning of the unattended message, not just its physical characteristics, were being processed
e.g. Moray (1959) you always detect your name in the

excluded message e.g. Treisman (1964a) bilingual participants able to recognise the identity of two messages in different languages


Treismans Attenuation Theory

Treisman rejected the early selection notion embodied in Broadbents theory. Instead, she claimed that all incoming messages receive some amount of low-level analysis, including the analysis of the physical characteristics of the message. When the unattended messages yield no useful or important information, those messages are attenuated; they are weakened in their importance to ongoing processing.

Normans Pertinence Model

Donald Norman proposed a useful modification to the Treisman scheme; his model specifically included a mechanism for top-down processing. The model claims that at any instant in time, attention to some piece of information, some message, is determined by two factors, sensory activation and pertinence. Pertinence: The momentary importance of information, whether caused by permanent or transitory factors.

Response selection model

Deutsch & Deutsch (1963)
All messages processed perceptually and for meaning.

No filtering, no attenuation Bottleneck comes at the response stage, when only one of the messages can be responded to


Selection Models- conclusion

Two things about selective attention:
First, selective attention can occur very early in the

processing sequence, based on very low-level, physical characteristics, as Broadbent proposed.

Second, it can be influenced by both permanent and

temporary factors. Permanent factors include highly important information such as your name and highly overlearned and personally important factors.


Sustained attention/ vigilance

Persons ability to attend to a field of stimulation over a prolonged period of time person seeks to detect the appearance of a particular target (Sternberg, 1999)
A vigilance task usually involves waiting for something unpredictable to happen
e.g. radar operator


Signal detection theory

A theory which says that there is no absolute threshold for sensation. The detection

depends on their physical energy and on internal factors such as relative costs and benefits related to the detection of stimuli. Perceptual sensitivity to stimuli sensitivity of perceiver to detect the stimuli Decision criterion perceiver adopt an internal criterion of overall sensory activity in deciding whether a signal is present or not.


Response bias: when signal is weak then it depends

on observers detection ability. It includes observers attention to stimulus, motivation and expectancy and other non sensory factors. Noise: there are several kind of distractions while we try to detect a specific stimulus like lack of attention, motivation, fatigue


Task: warn of incoming

aircraft Are the blobs enemy aircraft? Or just noise (e.g. clouds)? Decision depends on subjective criterion: how big must the blobs be to be aircraft Decision has consequences:
If you miss an aircraft, people

might get killed If you mistake noise for aircraft, fuel, manpower & resources are wasted


Decision outcomes & consequences

SIGNAL: are the blobs real enemy aircraft?

yes yes
DECISION: should you alert the air force?

False alarm




Correct reject


A Disorder of Attention: Hemineglect

Hemineglect: A disruption or decreased ability to

look at something in the (often) left field of vision and pay attention to it. Thus, hemineglect is a disorder of attention in which one half of the perceptual world is neglected to some degree and cannot be attended to as completely or accurately as normal.


Drawings copied by a patient with contralateral neglect