Does the theory of an attentional ‘spotlight’ really explain how people direct their attention?
Hello all 🙂
Hope your exams went well. Today, I’ve actually decided to take my idea from the essay I wrote in my Cognitive exam. I have, of course, not just copied it word for word, but I’m going to try and discuss it and make it more accessible and (for lack of a better word) bloggy.
I thought it would be a good idea to share my ideas from this question, and hopefully get feedback from other people who did the same essay, or even those who didn’t and just want to share.
So, first of all, I’m going to explain a little about the theory of attentional ‘spotlight’. With all the things that are going on in our environment around us, it would be impossible to try and process all of it, and this is where the idea of an attention spotlight came from.
It was first suggested by Posner, Snyder and Davidson in 1980. Posner theorised that our attention was like a spotlight which can be moved around and focused on a single target.
Cueing experiments were used to get evidence to support the theory. In cueing experiments, participants are asked to respond as quickly as they can to a stimulus, which may be a light coming on, for example. The light would be to the right or left of a central fixation point and might be preceded by a cue. So, an arrow might come on screen telling the participant which way they should direct their attention.
The results showed that, as you would expect, people responded faster if they’d been told before hand which way to direct their attention. Participants responded slowest if they’d been tricked into directing their attention the wrong way. Ie. if the arrow pointed to the left, but light actually showed up on the right.
In 1990, Posner and Peterson built on this idea and proposed that focusing attention occurs in 3 stages:
- Attention would be disengaged, or taken away, from where it was currently focused.
- Attention would physically shift from one location to another.
- Attention would be engaged onto the new thing.