Figure

The ways in which different topics in attention are related to each other.

the central executive, or even to the anterior attention system) as an unspecified causal mechanism explains nothing.

There is a crucial distinction between focused and divided attention (see Figure 5.1). Focused attention is studied by presenting people with two or more stimulus inputs at the same time, and instructing them respond to only one. Work on focused attention can tell us how effectively people select certain inputs rather than others, and it enables us to study the nature of the selection process and the fate of unattended stimuli. Divided attention is also studied by presenting at least two stimulus inputs at the same time, but with instructions that all stimulus inputs must be attended to and responded to. Studies of divided attention provide useful information about an individual's processing limitations, and may tell us something about attentional mechanisms and their capacity.

The distinction between focused and divided attention can be related to some of the distinctions discussed earlier. Individuals typically decide whether to engage in focused or divided attention. Thus, the use of focused or divided attention is often determined by goal-driven or top-down attentional control processes.

There are three important limitations of attentional research. First, although we can attend to either the external environment or the internal environment (i.e., our own thoughts and information in long-term memory), most research has been concerned only with the former. Why is this? Researchers can identify and control environmental stimuli in ways that are impossible with internal determinants of attention.

Second, what we attend to in the real world is largely determined by our current goals. As Allport (1989, p. 664) pointed out, "What is important to recognise, is not the location of some imaginary boundary between the provinces of attention and motivation but, to the contrary, their essential interdependence." In most research, on the other hand, what participants attend to is determined by the experimental instructions rather than by their motivational states.

Third, as Tipper, Lortie, and Baylis (1992) noted, in the real world we generally attend to three-dimensional people and objects, and decide what actions might be suitable with respect to them. In the laboratory, the emphasis is on "experiments that briefly present static 2D displays and require arbitrary responses. It is clear that such experimental situations are rarely encountered in our usual interactions with the environment" (Tipper et al., 1992, p. 902).

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