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Selective Attention – Attention (PSY)

by Tarry Ahuja, MD
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    00:01 All right, let’s get into making sense of the environment.

    00:05 We’re constantly inundated with stimulation and all the different things around us.

    00:09 How do we determine what we want to pay attention to and what we’re listening to and what we’re looking? Let’s take a look at that.

    00:14 So first we have selective attention.

    00:16 Now how do we filter out what we want to listen to and what we don’t want to listen to, what we want to watch and what we don’t want to watch? So the process by which one input is attended to and others are tuned out is called selective attention.

    00:31 So let’s take a look at this diagram here and we have some headphones on and in one ear you’re presented with a sound and in the other ear you’re presented with a different sound.

    00:39 So in this diagram we have “ba” and “na” or “ta” or whatever you want it to be.

    00:44 Now, if I ask you and I say, you know, just focus on your left ear.

    00:51 The idea is that you’re going to tune out and filter out whatever is coming in the right, and, you know, in this analogy, you might think of listening to the radio in a really busy kitchen at your house.

    01:02 You’re trying to catch your favorite song, which is on, and, you know, that Justin Bieber song’s on and you’re just trying to listen to it because you love it so much, but your wife and kids won’t stop talking and you’re like, this is the best part, and you try to filter them out and focus on the song.

    01:18 Now, your wife might actually be barking at you to go buy some milk on the way home and you’re listening to Justin Bieber, and after the song is over and you’re leaving, your wife said, “So did you remember what I said?” and you said, “I don’t know what you said.” And she said, “I told you to get milk.” And then you turn out to her and you say, “I’m sorry.” Sorry.

    01:35 Okay, so let’s move on to a different model, which say, why is it that we are able to focus only on some things and not everything? And the explanation is that we must have a limited capacity to pay attention and other things must be tuned out, and so it’s selective.

    01:52 So we don’t have an unlimited amount of resources and so we need to focus on what’s in front of us and focus on the things that are important to us.

    01:59 Okay? So, in this scenario that we talked about where there were the two channels that we talked about, attended and unattended.

    02:07 And most of the information from attended stimulus is retained while the other is lost.

    02:11 Justin Bieber stayed, nagging wife is gone.

    02:14 Okay? So, we’re going to have a couple of models that we’re going to walk through that are going to explain or at least propose how they think this selective attention is happening.

    02:24 So, the first thing is we need this information to come in, so we’re going to have both the attended and unattended stimulation.

    02:33 So, whether it’s sound or it’s vision, let’s focus just on sound.

    02:38 So we have Justin Bieber coming in, we have nagging wife coming in, and they’re both going to go into the sensory store, or it’s an area like a buffer, where things are sitting at first.

    02:49 Now, one of the inputs is selected and filtered based on the sensory modality.

    02:53 So the sound is what we’re looking for here.

    02:55 And we want to pull out what we need, and we’ve pre-identified what that is.

    03:00 So for me, it’s a song.

    03:02 So I’m listening to Justin and I know that it’s a song and that’s what I’m looking for, and I’m going to basically filter out all the things that I don’t want, like my nagging wife.

    03:12 That’s now out.

    03:13 We filtered that out.

    03:14 Okay so now, the information that’s relevant to me is going to be passed on.

    03:19 So the info that is not important to stays in that buffer and it has been filtered out and eventually it will decay and I’ll lose that message, which is why I didn’t understand what my wife was asking me.

    03:31 Now, the information that was important to me enters another bin that we’re going to say is short-term memory, where we start to tag different semantic tags.

    03:40 Semantic refers to sort of more of that cognitive context.

    03:44 So, I love Justin, he’s so dreamy, this is my favorite song, and all those little tags get put on, and the moment that I heard it, I was in the kitchen, all the stuff that’s happening gets tagged to that moment, to that song, and then that gets put on to the next level of memory.

    03:59 Okay, so that can be working memory.

    04:01 It can eventually get processed into long-term memory.

    04:04 So this whole process that we’ve proposed here is called Broadbent’s Filter Model and is basically referring to the fact that there’s a selective filter which is basically filtering out all unintended messages while allowing the attended message to pass through.

    04:19 Okay? Okay, so this model isn’t perfect.

    04:22 There are some weaknesses here and the first being some unintended inputs are detected.

    04:29 So based on the Broadbent model, everything that we don’t really care about is going to get filtered out.

    04:33 So in theory, all we should ever get is the attended input or what were really what we’re paying attention to.

    04:40 So an example of this not being true is the Cocktail party effect.

    04:44 And this is when you’re at a party, we’ve all been in this situation, and you’re talking to somebody.

    04:50 It’s kind of loud.

    04:51 There’s music and there’s awhole bunch of conversation that’s going on, and you’re talking to the person in front of you.

    04:56 Okay, so you’re talking to your boss and your boss is talking about all this stuff, and blah, blah, blah.

    05:02 And you’re supposed to be paying attention to them and you kind of are.

    05:05 And a whole bunch of other conversations are floating around and in theory, the sound is entering your ear.

    05:11 So the stimulus is entering, but it’s unintended, meaning that you don't really want that information and according to the Broadbent model, you’re going to filter all of that out so that all that you hear is the amazing deep conversation that you’re having with your charming boss.

    05:25 Now, all of a sudden you hear your friend’s name in a conversation that’s happening across a few conversations from you and all of a sudden you hear blah, blah, blah -- or you hear your own name.

    05:38 You hear blah, blah, blah -- Tarry and you perk up.

    05:40 Now, in theory according to the Broadbent model, that should’ve been filtered out because you’re really focusing on the attended conversation in front of you and that was unintended information that you didn’t really want.

    05:51 But we know that what happens, you’re like, “Oh, I heard my name.” So that right there tells us there must be something else going on other than truly just straight filtering of all unintended or unnecessary information.

    06:05 This brings forth to a new model or the Attenuation model, Anne Treisman’s Attenuation Model.

    06:10 This model suggests that the filter is actually replaced by an attenuator.

    06:14 So an attenuator is a fancy way of saying something that you can control, let’s say volume.

    06:18 Okay? So what it does is it turns down unintended sensory input, stuff that you really don’t necessarily care about instead of completely removing it.

    06:28 So it’s still there, but it’s really, really turned down and you’re trying to focus more on the important or attended sensory input.

    06:35 This explains why we can still hear or access information that is thought to be filtered out, but we know that it’s not filtered out.

    06:42 So same basic idea in terms of if you look at this model, if you look at all the different steps, we have the two types of messages coming in, we have the sensory store now goes to an attenuator, and then some of that gets sent over to higher level processing and eventually onto working short-term and long-term memory.

    07:02 Now, let’s take a look at other ways to explain things like selective priming.

    07:09 So selective priming is when you get activated or pre-activated to something and are more likely to notice it.

    07:19 So we’ve defined this here selective priming - one is primed to observe something (frequency versus expectation) and is more likely to notice it.

    07:26 So if I, say for example, I’m going to ask you a question and let’s do that right now, red.

    07:35 So I’m going to ask you to name me one fruit, name me a fruit.

    07:43 Okay, now if your answer was apple or cherry or strawberry or something red, is it because I quickly just primed you and said the word “red”? Okay, so why did that happen? Well, by me saying the word “red”, I’ve actually primed you to now think about things that are red and you’ve answered it.

    08:06 Okay? So this is ways of me priming you towards answering.

    08:12 Okay? So this is frequency versus expectation, I’ve increased the expectation there.

    08:17 So another sort of slightly similar model is visual attention, and this is using the spotlight model, and what we’re saying is we have areas of attention.

    08:26 And the reason I used the term “spotlight” is if you think of, say a play, and the person has a spotlight and it’s shone on where they want you to look, the actors doing their scene.

    08:36 Now, if you think of that as of attention, that can actually precede or move around faster than we’re actually looking at.

    08:47 So we can say that shifts in attention precede eye movements.

    08:51 So if while you’re looking at something, your attention is slightly drawn to something else, you will actually move your vision to that.

    09:00 So that is the spotlight model looking at sort of selective attention, removing your attention somewhere, and that will actually cause you to focus on that first or quicker.


    About the Lecture

    The lecture Selective Attention – Attention (PSY) by Tarry Ahuja, MD is from the course Making Sense of the Environment.


    Included Quiz Questions

    1. Selective attention
    2. Attention
    3. Divided attention
    4. Unattended channel
    5. Sensory buffer
    1. Attenutator
    2. Broadbent's model
    3. Cocktail party effect
    4. Multitasking
    5. Decaying of unattended message
    1. Cocktail party effect
    2. Sensory filter
    3. Task similarity
    4. Attenuation model
    1. Selective priming
    2. Cocktail party effect
    3. Task familiarity
    4. Attended message
    5. Unattended message
    1. Spotlight model
    2. Selective priming
    3. Cocktail party effect
    4. Expectation
    5. Attenuation model

    Author of lecture Selective Attention – Attention (PSY)

     Tarry Ahuja, MD

    Tarry Ahuja, MD


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