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Describe Selective Attention And Discuss Its Functions, How It Can Be Controlled And Ways Of Investigating It.

1155 words - 5 pages

Selective attention is very important in our daily lives, but we are often unaware of how it really works. Therefore, it is worthy to explore its characteristics and functions, ways to control it and investigation methods.Selective attention, also known as focused attention, mainly controls our awareness of particular categories or entities in our environment. When it is involved, we focus entirely on one stimulus and ignore others (Elizabeth, 2006). For instance, when we are working hard on an essay, even if external noises are present, we would not be aware of them. Selective attention can be explained by some components of the brain’s sensory system being more sensitive to detect particular categories of stimuli. For example, if a person is looking for changes in shapes, colours or movements of objects, there is increased activity in the portions of his visual cortex devoted to the analysis of shapes, colours or movements (Martin, et al., 2007). Different mechanisms serve to filter out irrelevant information and make us more responsive to particular stimuli. Ultimately, selective attention would sort out the information that should reach Short Term Memory and finally manipulate what is stored in Long-Term Memory (Elizabeth, 2005).We can control selective attention automatically while hearing a loud noise, through instructions when we look in a specific direction or demands of a particular task like driving – we are especially aware of other road users, pedestrians and road signs (Martin, et al., 2007).One main reason selective attention is useful is that it acts as a gatekeeper that helps control the flow of information to brain mechanisms responsible for conscious processing of information, which have limited capacity (Broadbent, 1958; Martin, et al., 2007).Among the various ways to investigate selective attention, audition and vision are the most extensively researched senses. Let’s begin with selective auditory attention. The dichotic listening task devised by Cherry (1953) was the first experiment to test selective attention. Participants were asked to listen to one out of two messages presented at the same time, one to each ear. Cherry placed headphones on his participants and presented recordings of different spoken messages to each ear. Ultimately, participants were asked to shadow the message presented to one ear, repeating back as quickly and accurately as possible what the voice was saying (Eysenck, 2005). Results revealed that subjects were only able to notice the physical aspects (e.g. gender) of speakers for the non-shadowed message but couldn’t recognize the semantic aspects of it regardless of how many times the non-shadowed message was repeated (Cherry, 1953). This was an evidence for Broadbent’s Filter Theory, which assumed that attended information was selected early in the system with reference to its physical characteristics (Broadbent, 1958).Moreover, the cocktail-party phenomenon was named by...

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