Sensation, Perception, and Attention

Sensation and perception are very active processes. A sensation is an act of translation, converting external stimuli into an internal version or representation (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). People also orient themselves to stimuli to capture sights, sounds and smells that are relevant to them. Like sensation, perception is an active process: It organizes and interprets sensations. There are 3 common features that all senses share; first, they must translate physical stimulation into sensory signals. Second, they all have thresholds below which a person does not sense anything despite internal stimulation. Third, sensation requires constant decision making as the individual tries to distinguish meaningful from irrelevant stimulation.

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I have a very high threshold for loud music or noise. This is true because when I was younger I was always around loud music. I would stand literally 3 to 4 feet away from double-stacked Marshals while my brother performed on stage at many night clubs when nightclubs and the band scene was popular. I also turn my stereo up very loud on the way home from work to stop from falling asleep on a very boring and long ride home at night. Because of my tolerance for loud noise, I have paid dearly in other ways. I now have to ask twice almost always for someone to repeat themselves when someone talks to me. I contribute this to the many night clubs and all the loud noise that came with them.

I have become very immune to the ability to hold more than one conversation at a time. Because of where I work and what is expected of me, I can hear and follow directions from many people at one or any given time. For example: On any given night at work (especially the weekends) I have 4 to 5 servers at once giving me their drink orders. It is my job to fill them, and I do it with no problem whatsoever. Moreover, I also have my own customers calling out drinks to me also which I must also fill. I also have customers who like to hold conversations with me while all this activity is going on, and I can also listen o them and follow for what they are saying. You can say I am a multitask listener. But if I was to apply this to learning I would not be able to do any of the tasks I have mentioned. When it comes to the learning aspect of it and trying to apply the “cocktail party phenomenon” I would not be able to learn under those or anything close to those conditions. I find it very hard to comprehend anything when trying to perform two tasks at once.

When exposing all 3 methods of distraction to the application of learning I find it hard to do so. You must find an environment that is stable enough to learn in, in my case I could never study in a “cocktail party” environment because I am easily distracted and would not be able to comprehend sufficiently what I am trying to retain. I find in my case when trying to work around the 3 problems at hand, would be to either find a way to adapt to these surroundings or try to find an environment that accommodates your studying needs. Always try to adapt to your own surroundings and control the issue at hand. But never let these conditions impede or hinder your studying. Remember this; there is always a solution to a given problem. You just need to find out for yourself which way work better for you and use them to your advantage.

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My amplitude/frequency comfort level depends upon what I am doing. If I am in a learning environment I prefer for it to be quiet. I concentrate much better when it’s completely silent or there’s very little noise. I tend to become easily distracted if my surroundings are too loud when I am studying or trying to complete an assignment for work. I also prefer to be spoken to in even softer tones. I do not like to be address loudly. While I do not want to be whispered to I do not want to be yelled upon either. When I do chores around the house loud music motivates me to get the job done quicker. I usually enjoy my music loud, not deafening loud but definitely at a higher than normal frequency.

I am very comfortable with dichotic listening and the “cocktail party” phenomenon, however,  it’s very easy to get distracted and miss important information. There are also times when you get information that may not have been meant for you. I have been at several functions and even though I may be in my own personal one on one conversation with someone, other conversations drift in and certain keywords may catch my attention to where I become attentive to that conversation. I practice dichotic listening on a daily basis. I use it most with my children because they are usually always talking at once and trying to get my attention. Sometimes they talk faster or louder to make me focus just on the individual. With dichotic listening and the cocktail party phenomenon, I retain the important information and tune out the useless conversations.

In a learning environment, it definitely hurts when my attention is divided. I am the mother of three so I am always multi-tasking and dividing my attention, however,  when I learn I need to focus on what I am trying to absorb. I prefer to concentrate on one thing at a time before I move on to the next item, that way I will not cross information up and get confused.

My auditory stimuli involve music. I have always loved music and singing; because of this, my music is always loud. In the car driving, in the shower, getting ready, drawing, or exercising my music is loud and I am even louder singing along. On the other hand, when I am studying, reading, or writing everything is turned off and just the buzz of the fan is in the background. I am easily distracted from my studies if a great deal of noise going on around me. I find that it even harder to stay focus when I am not interested in the material or I am confused by it. If not music, most sounds in my life are at a normal sound wave (except my husband always states I do not talk loud enough, I tell him he needs a hearing aide).

I wear glasses because I do not possess good eyesight, my taste buds settle for bland food, and my sense of smell is not up to par either. Therefore, my hearing is good. Ever since I was a little girl my mother has always commented on if I want to hear something I can hear it rooms away. As a result, I have no trouble with holding a conversation with someone in a cocktail party phenomenon. I zero in on their lips and almost read them when the sound threshold rises. Because of this, those who know me well know when I am not listening.

I remember an exercise from my acting class that dealt with breaking your focus and having to pay attention and withhold a conversation with two different people at the same time. This lesson was to teach you how to operate as an actor and the character both at the same time. In situations dealing with acting dividing your focus is essential. However, in a class learning environment, I understand very little when my attention is being divided from the lesson. In everyday life, your focus is constantly being divided and tested. The times when I can not get away from the noise I have to fight to keep my focus where needed.

It is inevitable for your focus to be split and constantly tested, whether by your children or yourself. However, when it comes to a learning environment is extremely hard to maintain focus when constant distractions are abundant. I can multi-task, and I do on a daily basis, but when it comes to reading learning material I have a hard time maintaining focus. I constantly distract myself; therefore, having other stimuli going on would make it nearly impossible to complete the assignment. The cocktail party phenomenon, dichotic listening, and divided attention is not a wise environment to be a part of when one is trying to concentrate on difficult material. Too many things going on results in important information not getting digested the way it should be.

Although the cocktail phenomenon, dichotic listening, and divided attention hinder learning sometimes they cannot be avoided. Because of this other methods must be created to sustain learning. The cocktail party phenomenon deals with focusing in on one stimulus and maintaining that focus. When dealing with learning you obviously do not want to associate with this type of environment, but if the situation will not let you get away from it, the best alternative is to focus in on one thing. Taking breaks in between sections also helps you maintain focus when needed. Dichotic listening becomes a distraction when you are trying to focus on one thing but you are stimulated to listen by another. Divided attention can be very beneficial but not when you are trying to focus on one thing. When these situations arise the best alternative would be obvious to retreat to a place where you can maintain focus on what is at hand. When you cannot retreat, finding reasonable times when you can be alone to focus and not be interrupted is the best thing to further your learning experience. Getting creative and finding alternate routes is the only way to sustain college life and the outside world.

I do not like it quiet when I am doing my college work. I have learned that if everything needs to be quiet when I am learning I would never learn. I even go as far as to listen to music on my headphones when I am learning at night. I never want to get too comfortable with noiseless learning. Now what I usually do during the day, after the children get home, is get us in the living room doing homework. I put on my headphones and they get me if they need something. That way I am right there with them and I can still learn. Up until the time that I started working at my last job I had a very hard time communicating with people in crowded areas. I would always try to get them alone to talk, so I could concentrate on what they were saying. However, after my last job (general manager of a Payday Advance) I am very comfortable with both dichotic listening and the cocktail party phenomenon. In that job, I had to manage my employees, the money supply, and the customer right in front of me without making any mistakes. Divided attention facilitates my learning because it allows me to be a father and a student at the same time. I am listening to music, have the syllabus open and am writing this post all at the same time I have found that these mechanisms help me learn rather than keep me from learning; however, at one time they did all distract me greatly from what I was doing. I guess the problem was that I was not able to stop concentrating and come back to it later. Back then when my attention was drawn to something else I forgot what I was doing before. Although the cocktail phenomenon, dichotic listening, and divided attention hinder learning sometimes they cannot be avoided. I have always believed strongly that the only person I can change is myself. If I find myself in a crowded environment and I need quiet to think I change environments or attempt to accommodate the environment. I do not try to manipulate the current environment. In almost every situation is me that needs to change, not other people or my environment. I guess that has affected my integration of divided attentions, dichotic listening, and the cocktail party phenomenon into my daily life. To use a metaphor that I have used in the DQ’s: I do not go around, through, or over walls. Walls are necessary. I stand on top of the walls.

When it comes to working in a noisy environment, all hands down. In order to concentrate and do a good job, I have to be in a quiet place where I can hear myself think. Working in a distance learning environment I have learned a little bit with divided attention, because with how many children that I have you have to concentrate on my assignment, but at the same time focus on the children to make sure that they are not doing anything that they are not supposed to be doing. If a test or something that is really important that needs to be done I would have to remove myself from the noisy environment and put myself in a quiet one. As I mention before it would be hard like at a cocktail party if someone were giving me important information then I would have to concentrate on the important things versus the not important. The way that all these things can be fixed to where I am able to understand what is going on, is by removing myself and find a better environment. I believe as I enter into the working field, such as the path to my career I will learn how to use divided attention. It seems that my teams have divided attention set in stone, myself I find this very hard to do. I think the way to get through these attention grabbers is to keep focus no matter what and even if I do not get the whole conversation, a least pull out the most important. 

In order for the team to maintain a high quality of work during our review, discussion, and team meeting periods there are several ground rules I see as common points of interest and behavior.  I see that each of us must take the time to tune in mentally and log in. This goes hand in hand with the team charter were given. Since this has been followed all team members are “in the loop” so to speak, with regard to our current plans and actions. Almost without exception, each team member is used to tracking more than one auditory cue at a time. With that having been said… each of the team members prefers to set themselves apart from multiple auditory cues when performing tasks related to school. The team agrees that in order to gain the most out of the materials given is first necessary (whenever possible) to remove oneself from any distracting environments. This facilitates learning by allowing one to concentrate. All team members agree that divided attention is by now mean actual attention. Consequently, a great deal of inference is used in communication with others. Each team member believes that the best learning environment is not that of the cocktail party but a controlled environment. At the same time, the team came to the conclusion that some of the time we must work through the former environment when the latter is unavailable.


Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2005). Psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Paper Topic

Prepare a 1,050 to 1,400-word paper in which you discuss the type of environment that facilitates the attention and perceptive processes of each Learning Team member. In order to prepare your report, perform the following activities:

  • Conduct an open dialogue about each team member’s threshold for auditory stimuli.
  • Compare the experiences and comfort levels of each team member with dichotic listening, or the “cocktail party” phenomenon.
  • Discuss how dividing attention facilitates or impedes each team member’s learning.
  • Identify and articulate what you see as the sensory perception problem involved.
  • Make recommendations and ground rules that will accommodate the auditory sensation, perception, and attention to learning during your Learning Team meetings.

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