Attention is a cognitive function that plays a central role in almost everything we do throughout the day. Based on this week’s readings, discuss the area/aspect of attention that you think is most important for or most influential on cognition. For example, when is vigilance or divided attention important for cognitive processing? Or how can unconscious processing influence our perception of an item? Be sure to support your opinions with specific terms and theories from the readings. How could you apply the ideas you have discussed to different settings, for example, in driving or advertising?
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Attention is choosing and processing a specific amount of information from all of the information that is being absorbed by our senses, stored memories and other cognitive processes (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2017, p. 119). The four main areas of attention are signal detection and vigilance, search, selective attention and divided attention. Although they are each very important depending on the circumstances, selective attentions stands out to be the most important for cognition. For cognitive processes to happen, a person has to be able to pay attention to and focus on something for a certain amount of time.
There are several “filter and bottleneck” theories to help explain selective attention. A filter blocks some of the information going through, selecting only a part of it while the bottleneck slows down the information that is passing through (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2017, p. 128). This can be explained more with the Early Filter Model by Donald Broadbent which says that all information comes through and is stored in sensory memory for a very short period of time. It is then moved forward to a filter that will only allow one message to move forward again and be processed in more detail. From our short-term memory, we can pick and choose which information we want to keep and use later.
This is important for cognitive processing because if we were not able to selectively focus on certain information while other conversations around us are happening, it would be too hard to process the information and store it for later use. A weakness of this is that sometimes the information that is picked up on is due to the loudness, pitch, accent (Sternberg & Sternberg, 2017) or sometimes whatever information sounds more exciting versus what is more important. This is known as the cocktail party problem. For those who are not very good with divided attention, selective attention is very important when driving past an accident. At the same time, divided attention is more important for drivers than selective because there is always a lot to look out for while driving.
Sternberg, R. J., & Sternberg, K. (2016). Cognitive Psychology (7th ed.) Boston: MA. Cengage Learning. P. 117-154.