Attention and Distraction

The purpose of this coursework is to investigate the properties of the human idea of attention and distraction. Within psychology there are many ideas surrounding attention and distraction and how the principle of attention may work and many psychologists have gone to great pains in order to study attention and distraction to great depths. For example CHERRY in the early 50’s established what he called the ‘Cocktail party phenomenon’ – suggesting that humans have merely one ‘channel’ of attention and no more and may only listening to this one channel and no other at any one time.

Later in 1954 BROADBENT further supported Cherry’s ideas by using what was called the ‘filter-theory’. This involved the idea of the human brain’s attention model being split into four individual parts and one of these parts, the ‘Selective Filter’, was the part that selected the ‘channel’ to listen to. Broadbent believed that the method of selection was not a complicated process, but merely on the basis of simple characteristics such as the direction the sound is coming from.

But in relation to our actual experiment as we shall see later on, MORAY (1959) argued that participants would often here their own name in the background if it was called out, suggesting that the non-attended channels are not completely ignored and that there is some awareness in them, and it is through this suggestion that the non-attended channels are not completely ignored that we make our hypothesis. Aim: Our aim within this investigation is to explore through experimentation, the human properties of attention and distraction and the qualities surrounding them.

We will make a suitable hypothesis concerning our investigation from the background knowledge that we have on attention and distraction and then will set to test this hypothesis through appropriate testing and investigation. Hypothesis: Our hypothesis is that when a participant is asked to calculate a list of twenty sums, the presence of a recording of random numbers played into headphones (which they will be wearing) will result in an increase of incorrect calculations whereas without the presence of the random numbers being played the rate of correct calculations will be higher.

Previous Research: Selective Attention: This is the theory of how we concentrate on one source of information while ignore another source. An example of this is Broadbents’ theory of attention named the ‘Filter-Theory’. Broadbent believed that human attention is made up of four individual parts. Each part had a specific role to play in attention and they all worked together in a chain. Below is a diagram of his filter and each part is labelled and explained: The selective filter is what we are concerned with more at this moment in time.

Broadbent believed this part to be somewhat like a television channel selector in the way it can select one ‘channel’ of information whilst ignore others. He believed that this was not a complicated process in the slightest but merely on the basis of the physical features of the channel, what direction it is coming from, etc. Broadbent believed the brain to be completely unaware of the other channels and the ‘Cocktail-Party’ situation was used to explain it, in that the person would be completely aware of who they were speaking to, but all other voices around them would be completely ignored.

Cherry further supported this theory with his ‘Dichotic Listening Experiments’, involving a participant being played two separate messages at the same time – one in each ear. The participant was told what ear to listen into and asked to repeat back the message they heard exactly. They were capable of listening and repeating back the message heard in the ‘shadowed’ ear (the ear that they were told to listen from) but the other message in the ‘non-shadowed’ ear was not recalled at all.

The conclusion of this experiment was that the participants had no awareness of the non-attended channels at all, therefore supporting Broadbent’s theory. BUT: In relation to our experiment and the fact that we believe that the non-attended channels can actually be a distraction to the attended channel, Moray (1959) argued that participants often heard their own name in the non-attended channels when it was spoken – suggesting that the non-attended channels were not completely ignored and that there is some awareness in them – this is how we came up with our hypothesis.

Also a point to make about the attention model TREISMAN’S (1964) model found solutions to Broadbent’s disregard and unbelief of the fact that the unattended channel may interfere. It is also an early selection model based on physical characteristics of the information. Treisman’s filter attenuates (weakens), rather than eliminates, the unattended information/channels. A second filter processes the information for meaning, which may result in an attenuated channel being selected if it is important, for example: your name or an alarm call like ‘help’ or, to use Treisman’s term, reaches the threshold level of intensity.

Overleaf is a diagram of Treisman’s model explaining what he believed about the attention model: We have based our hypothesis on the fact that we believe that although one channel may only be accessed at any one time, other channels may interfere. In our experiment we are working on the basis that the presence of the random numbers will closely relate to the sums and that will increase confusion.

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