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Critically Review the Evidence

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    Critically review the evidence supporting Schneider & Shiffrin’s model of automation and evaluate the extent to which it explains evidence from studies of divided attention. In everyday speech we use the word attention to include several kinds of mental activity. Psychologists also use the word in many different contexts. Attention can refer to the kind of concentration on a mental task in which you select certain kinds of perceptual stimuli for further processing, while trying to exclude other interfering stimuli (Shapiro, 1994).

    For example, when you take a written examination you concentrate on the visual stimuli contained in the exam, excluding other sensory information, such as the many small movements in your peripheral vision from fellow students and many other insignificant sounds and smells in the room. Attention can also refer to being prepared to receive further information. For instance, being told to pay particular attention to an important announcement. Attention is an ongoing mental process and is applied to so many everyday contexts that is it difficult to define the lines between the different kinds of attention which occur.

    Using the exam as an example again, you may think that you are concentrating solely on the written text on the page but surely it is not possible to exclude all the unwanted stimuli which is present in the room, such as other students asking to go to the toilet or opening a drink or coughing etc. It may be our best intention to concentrate on the one task that is our goal to complete but how can we physically ignore so many other stimuli? I will look at some models of attention and evaluate the evidence from studies of these models to better understand the concept of attention and the divisions within it.

    I also intend to answer some basic questions such as, why can we do some tasks simultaneously but not other? And, is attention capacity fixed? Early studies of attention include methodologies such as dichotic listening. The dichotic listening task was conducted by Collin Cherry 1953 and is the main model used in selective attention theories. The task involves participants listening to two different streams of information being played simultaneously through headphones, one message into each ear. For example,

    music would be played through the left ear piece whilst a sequence of random letters is played through the right. Participants are then asked to repeat/shadow one of the messages. It is then possible to assess the extent to which the participant is attending to the data. Selective attention studies often show that participants notice very little about the irrelevant task. For example, during variations of the study participants reported that they had not noticed the switch in language in the unattended message, when it had in fact been switched from English to German.

    Participants did however, notice when the voice of the unattended message was switched from male to female. Therefore some characteristics of the unattended message can be detected. Broadbent’s model of attention supports these basic findings from the dichotic listening task. Broadbent’s model is constructed of two main stages. The first is sensory input i. e. visual or auditory stimuli, which is then converted into memory. This is not short term memory but a very temporary memory store. Information is then filtered, analysed and selected on physical characteristics only, not meaning.

    This is where the model supports the findings of the dichotic listening task in that when the message is changed from a male to female voice it is a physical characteristic. The second stage of the model comes after the filter which processes the selected input for attention, i. e. semantic analysis to respond to information. The problem with the filter mechanism is that is works on an all or nothing basis. The model suggests that only one piece of information is analysed for meaning, but things can distract us and gain our attention simultaneously.

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