Theories of Attention and Perception

Moses Nhamburo

How have psychologists sought to explain selective attention? To what extent have they been successful?

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According to Psychologists, selective attention is defined as an act where an individual tries to focus on a specific subject or object for a specific period of time, whereas at the same time ignoring several other irrelevant things which might be occurring around that person (Renninge et al, 2014). Such kind of situation occurs with everyone and every day. Psychologists have explained that since it is impossible for a normal human being to give attention to every stimulus in our environment, we tend to select or give attention to only those stimuli, which we believe is important for us. Psychologists have been successful in explaining the concept of selective attention to a larger extent. Their explanation is relevant to what we observe in our day-to-day lives. They have also explained that degree of selective attention can vary from one person to another, finally impacting their ability to focus or concentrate on some particular task. Distraction is one of the way through which psychologists believe that selective attention can be minimised. For example, if one person is hungry, then he will probably focus more on his meal rather than checking an incoming call on his smart phone (Serences & Kastner, 2014).

Word count: 229

Compare and contrast two of the major theories of perception and evaluate their impact on psychologists understanding of how we perceive the world

Two major theories of perception which can be used for this task is:

Constructive aspect of perception
Ecological aspect of perception.

Joel Norman (2000), states that both these theories differ from each other, however both approaches towards perception can be considered as a valid definition of the perception, but they represent different aspect towards perception.

In the constructivists approach, it is believed that the stimulus that reaches our senses are generally insufficient which triggers another perceptual system, and is considered to be intelligent (Warren & Wertheim, 2014). It is important to understand that the perceptual system relies on a mechanism, which has inferential characteristics. Majority of the individuals face inherent equivocality associated with the stimulation, it can be said that the perceptual system enable an individual to overcome this equivocality. However this is in contrast to what several psychologists believe. Many psychologists believe on the ecological aspect of the perception further mention that information, which is present in the environment around us, is more than enough to fulfill the requirement of creating a perception and cannot be considered as equivocal in nature. That is why there is no requirement to pick any specific or relevant information.

Psychologists who support the constructivists approach or perception believe that this theory of perception is multistage in nature where there are intermediate processes interlinking stimulation and perception. Or in other words this theory suggests that perception is indirect, whereas ecological theorists believe that perception is not a multi stage aspect but is single stage process, and can be considered as immediate and direct (Bevan & Sparks, 2014).

Psychologists supporting the constructive theory of perception believe that in formation of perception in this theory memory schema or metadata, which stores the past experience, play a critical role. On other hand ecological theory advocates the fact that in formation of perception there is hardly any role of memory and perception is generally formed on the basis of what a person experience at that very moment (Flom, 2014).

It has been observed that people with constructivists approach excel in a process where analysis is involved, and there is certain mechanism of underlying perception. On other hand people who follow the ecological approach of perception excels at the analysis of the fact that how a stimulus might reach to the observer. Both these theories to a large extent have impacted psychologists in their understanding of how we perceive the world. Based on their experience psychologists believe that ecological approach of perception majorly parallels the dorsal system. Dorsal system is a system, which basically focuses on transformation of information, which is visual in nature into a framework, which is egocentric in nature, which allows the individual to grasp the object. On other hand constructivists approach parallels the ventral system (Stojanov & Indurkhya, 2014).

Ventral system is considered to be one of the most basic fundamental, which drives the entire visual processing in the brain. Ventral system is different from the dorsal system, as it transforms the visual information in such a form that it can be considered to be exocentric in nature. This in turn enables an individual to create a perception of the object and a relation with the real world is established. Thus it can be said that ecological theory of perception follows a dorsal system, which is focused more on seeing the motion such as a person grasping an apple to eat. On other hand the constructivists approach focuses on the ventral system, which is focused more towards understanding or knowing the environment rather than physically sensing the object.

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Much has happened in the field of perceptual development since the early studies of Fantz, Bower, Gibson and Walk. Analyse how the nature/nurture debate today has been advanced by these early studies.

Perceptual development can be defined as a process, which lays down a foundation through which we are able to interpret various types of events of the world-taking place in our environment. Much has changes after initial studies on perceptual development by Fantz, Bower, Gibson and Walk was done. Nature vs. Nurture debate to a large extent has advanced over a period of time. In this argument or discussion of perceptual development the basic argument that has existed since ages, that what exactly drive the process of perceptual development. There has been argument on the fact that whether it is nature, genetics, nurture or experience which his important for the sensory system of the human beings to operate (Augustinova & Ferrand, 2014). Often it has been argued that in the process of perceptual development on one hand there is genetic position which is all required by the sensory system of the human beings and is considered to be the most critical factor of life, whereas on other hand it is considered that human beings are like a blank slates at the time of birth, and as we experience new things and aspects in life accordingly our perception is formed on that blank slate and we start perceiving things in life.

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TAQ 5:

Describe 2 pieces of research that has been used to investigate selective visual attention. Use the Stoop 1935 study and one more recent piece research, which use a more robust method than the original Stoop experiment.

In psychology Stroop’s study in 1935 demonstrated that there could be possibility of interference in the reaction time of the task. For example when name of a color is printed in a color which is not denoted by the name, for example word ‘Blue’ printed in Red then in such situation it was found that naming of the word takes longer time as is prone to error. In Stroop’s experiment stimuli was divided into 3 groups namely: neutral, incongruent and congruent. Thus in a neutral stimuli in which only text or color is displayed (Ikeda et al, 2014). Congruent stimuli is the one in which the color of the ink and the word refer to the same color. Lastly in incongruent stimuli ink color and word both differ from each other. One of the relatively recent theories is Feature integration theory of attention, which was developed by Anne Treisman, and Garry advocated the fact that when a human being perceives a stimulus then in that process features are registered first in parallel whereas objects are identified separately. Thus according to this theory the visual attention goes through various stages from the point an object is seen till the point perception is made about the same. As per this theory first object is analysed, then its features are combined and ultimately perception is made. To a large extent this theory further substantiated the Stroop’s experiment with more logical explanation.

The Animal Stroop task with children is a quite neat study. Evaluate both the piece of research. Why may the second piece of research be better than the original Stroop experiment

Animal Stroop task was basically developed for kids, as the initial test on which Stroop’s experiment was based on the words and colors and due to limited reading abilities of the kids that test was not much successful when applied to the kids. Original Stroop task didn’t consider the visual aspect to a large extent (Anderson, 2014). It was more focused on how an individual reads a particular word and how he perceives that word on the basis of the color. It did not include the image aspect of the perception. On other hand the second experiment, which was based on the images of the animals, included both reading as well as visual perception. This tested the visual perception power of an individual as well. Unlike first test, which was purely based on how an individual perceives and interprets only the textual content, the second research also focused on testing of visual attention when images are displayed to the individual. It can be said that the second Stroop experiment was more inclusive in nature as it included various other aspects as well, that is why it can be considered to be more comprehensive in nature and revealed more information about the perception making process in an individual

Using the information from your answer above, explain how the research on selective visual attention has been applied practically in everyday life.

As discussed in above sections, it can be clearly said that selective visual attention definitely has important role to play in our everyday life. Even though most of the time we don’t even realize that the phenomenon is taking place, but we do apply selective visual selection. Practically the concept is applicable in every possible aspect of life. For example you are scrolling through news feed of an online e-paper, however you will never read each and every line, but you will still be aware of that what the content is talking about. The moment we find some content, which we perceives as interesting we will stop scrolling, and start reading that content. Similarly, we are travelling by a local train, but we are not focused on our surroundings and are looking on our smart phone and ignoring the surroundings (Sperling & Hsu, 2014). Thus this is a typical example through which it can be understood that how we are visually segregating our attention to only those things which we perceive as important. This capability allows human being to avoid getting distracting when the person is trying to focus on some important task. However distraction is the way through which the selective visual attention can be reduced as well.

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Renninger, A., Hidi, S., & Krapp, A. (Eds.). 2014.The role of interest in learning and development. Psychology Press.

Serences, J. T., & Kastner, S. 2014. A multi-level account of selective attention.The Oxford Handbook of Attention, 76.

Warren, R., & Wertheim, A. H. (Eds.). 2014.Perception and Control of Self-motion. Psychology Press.

Bevan, J. L., & Sparks, L. 2014. The relationship between accurate and benevolently biased serial argument perceptions and individual negative health perceptions.Communication Research,41(2), 257-281.

Flom, R. 2014. Perceptual narrowing: Retrospect and prospect. Developmental psychobiology.

Stojanov, G., & Indurkhya, B. 2014. Perceptual Similarity and Analogy in Creativity and Cognitive Development. InComputational Approaches to Analogical Reasoning: Current Trends(pp. 371-395). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Augustinova, M., & Ferrand, L. 2014. Social priming of dyslexia and reduction of the Stroop effect: What component of the Stroop effect is actually reduced? Cognition,130(3), 442-454.

Ikeda, Y., Okuzumi, H., & Kokubun, M. 2014. Stroop-like interference in the real animal size test and the pictorial animal size test in 5-to 12-year-old children and young adults.Applied Neuropsychology: Child,3(2), 115-125.

Anderson, N. H. (Ed.). 2014.Contributions To Information Integration Theory: Volume 1: Cognition. Psychology Press.

Sperling, G., & Hsu, A. 2014. Deriving the acuity and the capacity of visual spatial attention.Journal of Vision,14(10), 521-521.


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