Childhood Schizophrenia Attention can be defined as the concentrated direction of the mind. We can also improve and develop it in our struggle to grasp the best possible understanding of the world around us so as to exploit it to our best interest. Without the aptitude of attention the amount of information available in the environment would be infinite. For example when someone is faced with a life-threatening situation one needs to be economical in dealing with the information arriving at his/her senses. Even in normal circumstances our environment is a buzz of chaos, and we need to select from many different events those to which we should attend in any given moment.
Selective attention provides the means by which we reduce the workload on our mental systems. The restriction of mental processing to one event at a time is called “selective attention”. Our ability to attend the one main event whilst being remotely conscious of the others provides the psychologist with the paradox of how attention can be both a selective and a divided process simultaneously. Cherry in 1953 (sited in Eysenk, 2000), gave subjects a dichotic listening task to perform. This involved wearing a stereo headphone, which enabled the experimenter to present one message to one ear and a second message to the other ear.
However what interested Cherry was how much of the unattended channel was only analysed by the subject at a very primitive level. For instance the subject was aware of the sex of the speaker but had no awareness of the context of the message. Cherry concluded that the unattended channel was analysed for its physical properties, such as tone and pitch, but nothing deeper than that. Broadbent (1959; sited in Eysenk, 2000) devised a model to explain how he believed attention is controlled by a ‘filter’. This simplified version of Broadbent’s theory shows that information that becomes filtered out of the system will receive only a low level of analysis. This systems explains much of the experimental findings of studies such as that of Cherry, yet it fails to explain how people respond to information such as their own name in the unattended channel and what decides that the system should tune to one channel rather than the other.
For that matter, Treisman (1960; sited in Eysenk, 2000) pointed out a number of flaws in Broadbent’s filter theory of attention. In one task her subjects shadowed the message to one ear whilst the unattended message contained random strings of words. However, whilst the task was in progress the channels were reversed, and the shadowed and random-word channels were swapped over. Her subjects were not aware that the meaningful message had been transferred to the channel that had previously been occupied by the random words and they continued to shadow it without interruption. Treisman (1964; sited in Eysenk, 2000) again showed that subjects do analyse information in the unattended channel at the semantic level.
Her subjects were bilingual. They were given the task of shadowing a message in one channel whilst the unattended channel contained the same message but in their second language. Treisman found that subjects were aware that the unattended channel was repeating the shadowed message and this must mean that they were making a semantic analysis of the non-shadowed channel. To explain this Treisman proposed a model in which the unattended message is ‘attenuated’ in much the same way that one would turn down the volume of the radio in order to concentrate on the message coming from the television. In Treisman’s model, instead of blocking the meaning of the unattended channel the selection device simply attenuate it, causing less overall disturbance to the primary high level analysis of information taking place in the attended channel. However Treisman’s model does not explain enough about the nature of the attenuator ‘device’, for instance how the attenuator controls attention and how the things in the unattended channel are salient enough to be brought up into primary attention.
In other words, what is the attenuator and what is the attenuator control the basis of its function? Is the attenuator control itself controlled by an attenuator control controller? Treisman’s model therefor does not generate clear predictions owing to these and these and other issues related to the complexity and the ambiguity of its design. Another historical reason why Treisman’s model was unpopular was that it did not fit into the two-process model of memory. What seems to emerge from the research and theory discussed above is that some tasks require a greater attention than others do. This is why more than one thing can be done at the same time – no one of them requires the full capacity of the attention system. But however skilled one is at a particular activity and therefore, however much attention can be devoted to some other concurrent task or tasks, surely there is some overall limit to how many things we can do simultaneously. Furthermore our capacity for dividing attention between tasks increases with practice on them.
It may then be possible to develop our cognitive resources in more efficient ways once the principles are more clearly mapped out. Psychology.