- Term Papers, Book Reports, Research Papers and College Essays

Two Examples That Illustrate the Limitations of Attention, Are These Limitations Advantageous or Disadvantageous?

Essay by   •  April 18, 2017  •  Research Paper  •  1,441 Words (6 Pages)  •  1,425 Views

Essay Preview: Two Examples That Illustrate the Limitations of Attention, Are These Limitations Advantageous or Disadvantageous?

3 rating(s)
Report this essay
Page 1 of 6

Cognitive psychology is valuable, but does not give us a full understanding of attention as it does not tell us how the brain does it, for a full understanding we would need to include the neural mechanisms that underlie attentional processes (Derrfuss, 2016). William James (1890) said of attention, that:

"Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought...It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others."

His statement; “withdrawal from some things” links to the understanding that our attention is very limited, we miss a lot of what is going on around us and of course without attention learning is very hard in fact attention could be described as the door to perception and knowledge. Much study has been conducted as to whether it’s the case that what we do not perceptually notice, does or does not actually affect us (e.g. Lachter et al., 2004; Dawson & Schell, 1982). Limitations of attention include the facts that attention can be shifted, that it can be selective, and that it can be captured and divided. Discussed here are two examples that illustrate those limitations of attention; one example illustrating auditory information and the other visual information.

Focused attention is of course advantageous in many areas of life; it is dependent upon top-down processing which is dependent on information stored in short-term memory. One such area involves listening and paying attention to someone who’s talking to you in a crowded and noisy room; often called the “cocktail party” problem. Colin Cherry (1953) was interested in how it is possible for a person to follow a conversation when many people are talking at the same time. He carried out a number of studies, he had participants wear headphones and proceeded to play two messages from the same person to both ears with the instruction that the participant should repeat one of them and ignore the other. It proved to be very difficult but was possible; eventually. Cherry then played the two messages to separate ears whereby the participants heard a different message in each ear. This is an example of a filtering paradigm called dichotic listening. Again the participants had to repeat just one of the messages; this proved to be much easier. Cherry’s conclusion showed that the ability to hone in on one message involved physical cues for instance different locations such as in the second example given above, or alternatively the gender of the speaker or the voice intensity. In addition when asked, the participants could recall very little about the other message, the unattended message, and could not tell when the unattended message was in a foreign language or even played backwards.

On the one hand this limitation is advantageous as it allows people to tune in to the person they are speaking to even when there are a lot of people talking at the same time. For example, being able to do so is advantageous to students when in lectures and seminars allowing them to eliminate or at least lessen distractions. However this could also be seen as a disadvantage as there are occasions when someone would need to access the information on the unattended channel such as a parent who will need to listen for their young child’s call whilst speaking to someone; or an Air Traffic Controller who needs to listen to a number of pilots at the same time.  

To this point the essay has concentrated only on auditory attention but the examples just mentioned involving the parent and the Air Traffic Controller are just as relevant when it comes to visual attention. The parent in keeping an eye on their children and the Air Traffic Controller keeping his eyes on a number of aircraft on his screen at one time.

With visual processing there are three spatial attention metaphors that are referred to; spotlight, zoom and multiple spotlights. The spotlight metaphor says that attention can be shifted; the zoom metaphor says that attention can be zoomed, that is focused into a particular area. With a spotlight, a particular region of the visual field can be clearly seen, leaving anything falling outside of that spotlight unlikely to be seen. The spotlight however is movable, attention can be shifted and it could be said that the spotlight is constantly on the move leading to the idea of multiple spotlights. With the zoom-lens model attention can be zoomed in and out, as with a camera, to direct attention as necessary. The visual field can be therefore increased or decreased to deal with the task at hand. However a person can only focus their visual attention on a small portion of their total visual field and when that person’s limited attention is focused on that one area they will fail to notice possible relevant and important aspects that they may possible want or need to see. Remembering that the aim of attention is to allow us to focus on what’s important at any particular time and to filter out aspects which are not relevant.

A famous example of this is the study carried out by Chablis and Simons (1999) in which a video was played depicting six people passing a basketball; three of the people were wearing white shirts and three were wearing black shirts. Participants in the study were tasked with counting the number of passes made by the team in the white shirts. During the video clip a ‘gorilla’ passed amongst the players spending a total of nine seconds on screen yet only half of the participants noticed. Not only does this show that people miss a lot that goes on around them but also that they, in most cases, will never know what they have missed. Of course with the gorilla study you could say that attention was working as it should, the participants were focusing on what they deemed necessary that is, counting the passes. Other aspects of the scene, including the gorilla were counted as irrelevant. In a controlled study this does not cause a problem and in this particular study it proves somewhat comical and amusing that participants could miss something so obvious.



Download as:   txt (8.6 Kb)   pdf (223.2 Kb)   docx (10.4 Kb)  
Continue for 5 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2017, 04). Two Examples That Illustrate the Limitations of Attention, Are These Limitations Advantageous or Disadvantageous?. Retrieved 04, 2017, from

"Two Examples That Illustrate the Limitations of Attention, Are These Limitations Advantageous or Disadvantageous?" 04 2017. 2017. 04 2017 <>.

"Two Examples That Illustrate the Limitations of Attention, Are These Limitations Advantageous or Disadvantageous?.", 04 2017. Web. 04 2017. <>.

"Two Examples That Illustrate the Limitations of Attention, Are These Limitations Advantageous or Disadvantageous?." 04, 2017. Accessed 04, 2017.