Attentional filtering and orienting

Nelson Cowan

in Attention and Memory

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780195119107
Published online January 2008 | e-ISBN: 9780199870097 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Psychology Series

 Attentional filtering and orienting

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Donald Broadbent's 1958 information processing model included an attention filter allowing only one channel of information to be processed, with the rest filtered out. In contrast to this “early filter” view, there subsequently emerged “late filter” views in which all input is processed to a semantic level but a filter prevents responding to multiple channels at once. There is evidence seeming to support both views. This chapter proposes an intermediate view, further developing Ann Treisman's attenuation theory in which all incoming stimulation contacts long-term memory, causing automatic activation of some memory features (at least physically-based features, e.g., tone pitch and light hue). Changes in stimulation can cause orienting responses, in which attention is recruited toward the change. After a neural model of stimuli is constructed, there is habituation of orienting; feature activation ceases to recruit attention. Thus, the processes of habituation and orienting comprise an intermediate-level attention filter.

Keywords: Donald Broadbent; automatic activation; early filter; Ann Treisman; habituation of orienting; information processing model; late filter; orienting responses

Chapter.  14249 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Cognitive Psychology

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