How To Define the Concept of Attention

Using the text, Cognition: The Thinking Animal, the University Library, the Internet, and/or other resources, answer the following questions. Your response to each question should be at least 150 words in length.

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1. How do you define the concept of attention?

I related particularly well to the analogy of attention as a spotlight. In my life, attention is a restricted resource. I can only devote the awareness stage of attention to one thing at a time. It would seem that utilize the early filter mechanism much more than the late filter mechanism. Further evolution in the analogy postulates that we can split the beam, to a certain extent. This analogy seems to work up to a point. It ends we try to compare the movement of the spotlight with the movement of attention. Attention is not specifically bound by distance, although it does move from object to object. To put it plainly, attention is the system by which we select and encourage already pre-processed sensations for continued cognitive processing. It appears that a great deal of processing occurs on the physical characteristics of outside stimuli, but that attention mediates the processing of meaning (semantics) and furthers the cognitive representation of a stimulus (awareness).   

2. Can attention be consciously allocated to tasks? Why or why not?

Yes and no. The explicit allocation of attention is a task that we do have control over. We can even explicitly allocate attention to two or more tasks, as long as they use different sensory input and output paths. However, we cannot discount the tendency to automaticity with repeated exposure and concentration on one stimulus. In this case, attention and cognitive manipulation become automated, thereby sidestepping much of our conscious control. We also must take into account the principle of inhibition of return as it pertains to attention. Apparently, attention patterns tend to not want to return to something that we have recently examined. We are also susceptible to the tendency to have attention control by stimuli that we do not want to pay attention to. The opposing mechanisms of operating process and monitoring process seek out content both consistent with what we want to think about and content opposed to what we want to think about, respectively.

3. What is the relationship between attention and cognition?

Of course, all neurons experience a refractory period after they have fired. So it would only make sense that the same neural pathways concerned with attention could not be fired exactly after they have already fired. In the arena of attention, this is exhibited by a period after a response has been chosen that another response cannot be chosen. Also, there are three basic cognitive steps to any task: perception, response selection, and response production. A bottleneck occurs in the response selection step, meaning that we can only choose one action at a time, which can be accounted for by the psychological refractory period. Furthermore, the structural explanation proposes that structural limitations in the brain limit attention capabilities. This theory postulates that cognitive processes that use the same cortical structures compete for attention because only one can be processed at a time. Also, the attentional blink accounts for the fact that we have a hard time identifying two stimuli if they appear between 100 and 600 ms apart.

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Willingham, D. T. (2007). Cognition: The thinking animal. New York, NY: Pearson Prentice Hall.

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