Langston, Advanced Cognitive Psychology, Notes
3 -- Attention
Attention is the magic that underlies a lot of cognitive psychology
theorizing. A quick search of "attention" in the PsycInfo database
will result in a lot of hits (over 100,000), but not a lot of
definition of what attention is.
Textbooks aren't much help. They're required to provide a
definition, but the connection between that and research is somewhat
tentative. We are going to cheat and think about attention as what
it does. Here's a list of
for-instances generated mostly top-of-mind, but aided by a quick
scan of search results from some selected journals:
We're going to sample some of these phenomena with a set of applied
readings. As with perception, our goal is to think about how the
application of a little basic attention information can help
- Automaticity: Tasks that demand attention suffer from a
reduction in attention resources, tasks that are automatic do
not. This is interesting for a lot of reasons. For example, if
we can figure out how to automate tasks, we can free up
cognitive resources for other things. Two examples:
- Reading: If the low-level parts of reading were automated,
we could focus resources on understanding the meaning, and not
just digging out pronunciation and spelling-sound
- Driving: If parts of driving were automated, the freed-up
attention could be devoted to avoiding accidents.
- Automaticity trade-offs: Automaticity can help, but it can
also hurt. With respect to driving, the automatization of the
low-level tasks leads to a false sense of confidence that makes
people think it's OK to talk on the phone, text, apply make-up
and fingernail polish, read, etc. while driving. It's not.
Automaticity can also lead to errors from not fully following a
- Attention and memory: For example, when false memories occur,
are those more a result of an attention failure at encoding than
a memory error?
- How stimuli draw attention to themselves. A lot of research in
this area has to do with the presentation of taboo material.
- Working memory: Attention is intimately tied up with the
operation of working memory.
- Kunar, M. A., Carter, R., Cohen, M., & Horowitz, T. S.
(2008). Telephone conversation impairs sustained visual
attention via a central bottleneck. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 15,
- Sanbonmatsu, D. M., Strayer, D. L., Biondi, F., Behrends, A.
A., & Moore, S. M. (2016). Cell-phone use diminishes
self-awareness of impaired driving. Psychonomic Bulletin
& Review, 23, 617-623. http://dx.doi.org/10.3758/s13423-015-0922-4
- Chen, H., & Wyble, B. (2015). Amnesia for object
attributes: Failure to report attended information that had just
reached conscious awareness. Psychological Science, 26,
- Castelhano, M. S., & Witherspoon, R. L. (2016). How you
use it matters: Object function guides attention during visual
search in scenes. Psychological Science, 27, 606-621. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0956797616629130
- Augustinova, M., & Ferrand, L. (2014). Automaticity of
word reading: Evidence from the semantic stroop paradigm. Current
Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 343-348. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0963721414540169
- Besner, D., Risko, E. F., Stolz, J. A., White, D., Reynolds,
M., O'Malley, S., & Robidouz, S. (2016). Varieties of
attention: Their roles in visual word identification. Current
Directions in Psychological Science, 25, 162-168. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0963721416639351
Advanced Cognitive Psychology Notes 3
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