Attention is “taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seems several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought...it implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others” (James, 1898).
Selective attention is when a person focuses on their conscious awareness on a particular stimulus. The person only attends to one or a few tasks at one time, this is necessary to keep the person from being overloaded with information. One of the main functions of attention is selective hearing, which attends to some stimuli and ignores others.
This essay will be focusing on attention, specifically selective attention. In some research that is to do with selective attention, participants are presented with two or more sets of stimuli at the same time. The participants process one set of stimuli while they are ignoring the other stimulus. The amount of processing of the ignored stimuli that happens then provides an indication to how successful attention can be focused on to, that specific stimulus that is important to the experimenter. This essay will be looking into theories that focus on selective stimuli, such as the cocktail party phenomena theory by Cherry (1953), this theory suggests that a person’s ability is to selectively attend to one specific stimulus over others. Broadbent’s filter theory (1958) will also be looked at; this theory suggests that we filter information after sensory registration.
Also, Treisman’s attenuation model (1964) which suggests that if a meaningful message is removed from a shadowed to the non-shadowed ear, then the subjects would track the shift of it but will not be aware of it.
The essay will be looking at all of these theories, comparing them whilst attempting to answer the question does selective attention act as a filter, blocking out all irrelevant stimuli?
Cherry (1953) developed an experimental procedure called shadowing, which is now a standard method to studying auditory attention. Cherry (1953) designed the dichotic listening task, where the participants performed the task while they were listening to headphones which delivered one message to the left ear and a different message to the right ear. They were then asked to repeat one of the messages that they heard in one of their ears and ignore the other message that was received in the other ear. Cherry found that the participants found it easy to do, even when the messages were spoken to them in the same voice. This then suggests that the auditory selective attention can be efficient. When questioning the participants, Cherry found that many of them were not aware of the meaning of the ignored message and they were unable to repeat a word or phrase from them.
Broadbent (1958) studied Cherry’s findings and found that it influenced the theory of attention that he had proposed. Broadbent suggests that the information processing system has limited capacity, which then means a filter is needed to...