Attention

 

It is no surprise that social cognitive researchers have had difficulty teasing apart the interrelated and interdependent concepts relating to attention as we are bombarded with a plethora of stimuli every second of every minute of every waking hour!  Moreover, as a person with diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I have always been fascinated with issues relating to attention.  A common misconception is that individuals with ADHD are unable to pay attention when the problem is actually an issue of focusing on one stimulus rather than multiple stimuli at once.  A person with ADHD has a tendency to have divided attention, in contrast to those who focus on one stimulus at a time.  Prior to medication I could juggle several activities at once, albeit I often had “projects” that were never completed.  It was only after a successful diagnosis and medication treatment that I understood the stress of paying attention to too much at once can put on a person’s physical, mental systems, and emotional systems.  The information gleaned from this week’s learning has been very enlightening in regard to why a person chooses to attend to certain stimuli.

Terms

The primary terms for the purposes of this discussion are saliency, accessibility, and vividness.  Another particularly important term relevant to this discussion is schema.

Saliency.  Salient is formally defined as “distinctive or prominent.  A salient stimulus in a multielement array will tend to be easily detected and identified” (“Salient,” 2007, p. 810).  According to Taylor and Thompson (1982) salience refers to instances wherein one object (person or thing) receives attention over alternative competing targets.  Simply put, the object of my attention is most salient or relevant to me in that given moment of time.  The saliency of this target object can be influenced by my goals, expectations, and situational influences (Eisen & McArthur, 1979).  Further, saliency is also influenced by my individually constructed schemas (Moskowitz, 2005).  Information consistent with my individual schema is also more likely to attract my attention.

Vividness.  Vivid [data] is formally defined as

 

Data that are salient or important to an individual (compared to so-called pallid data).  Such data comprise observations (or more generally, information), collected either by direct sensory experience or indirectly… that may then be used by the person to make deductions and generally reason about the world.  A datum’s vividness is a function of individual interests, the concreteness of the datum, its power, or its proximity.  Vivid data are more likely to be recognized, attended to, and recalled, generating a greater cognitive influence (“Vivid data,” 2007, p. 988).

 

This definition of vivid information is consistent with the conceptions of vividness posited by Nisbett and Ross (1980).  “Information may be described as vivid, that is, as likely to attract and hold our attention and to excite the imagination to the extent that it is (a) emotionally interesting, (b) concrete and imagery-provoking, and (c) proximate in a sensory, temporal, or spatial way” (as cited in Taylor & Thompson, 1982, p. 156).  However, Taylor and Thompson (1982) went to great lengths to review various studies to determine if the vividness effect actually exists.  The results of their review provided lukewarm support for limited aspects of vividness using a single point of reference, whereas, they found positive support for saliency.  Their reasoning was that saliency required utilized a selection process, i.e., choosing a particular stimulus to focus upon, whereas, the vividness studies typically provided subjects with either a vivid sample or a pallid sample.  To wit, a possible explanation for the disparity of results.

Accessibility.  The term accessible is formally defined as “retrievable through memory or other cognitive processes” (“Accessible,” 2007, p. 7).  Baumeister and Finkel (2010) suggest accessibility is related to neural node excitation.  Specifically, neural nodes become activated as thoughts are processed using certain neural pathways.  The more often these pathways are used or the more links to a particular pathway increases thought or concept accessibility.  Further, the greater the number of connections and/or frequency of use the longer it takes for the excitation or activation of the neural pathway to fade allowing for the pathway to easily become reactivated at a later time.  This concept helps to explain why it is easier to relearn information previously put aside at an earlier date without as much difficulty, and sometimes comprehend the information better.

Schema.  Lastly, a schema refers to the overarching organizational hierarchy with which an individual defines everything and anything encountered in life.  The originator of schema theory, Bartlett (1932) “suggested that people have organized conceptions of people, places, events, and other things that they bring to bear in processing new information…schemas” (Baumeister & Finkel, 2010, p. 70).  Moreover, Moskovitch (2005) explicates that schemas organize information in abstract concepts, as well as maintaining specific examples.  Further, schemas provide individuals with readily available relationship and rules information to guide behavior in various situations.  Schemas are especially relevant because research indicates individuals not only favor schema consistent information, but they have a tendency to dismiss or delete schema inconsistent information outright (Higgins, King, & Mavin, 1982).  This concept helps to explicate why stories change from person to person as they are passed along.  Each person remembers details from the story that is consistent with their own individual schema, often deleting other details, and in some cases, adding details that were not present in the first place (Higgins et al., 1982).

Schemas are developed over time through a variety of experiences and as result thereof, are constructivist and individualistic to oneself resulting in different perceptions of the same target object by different people.  Research studies by Higgins, King, and Mavin (1982) evidenced individuals identified traits in others similar to traits used to describe themselves (self-schema similarities), perceivers with nonoverlapping accessible traits formed significantly different impressions about target persons, and in one study there was significantly little overlap in accessible constructs.

TED talk

This week’s discussion directed me to provide a description of a social event in the media involving one person that stood out to me.  Unfortunately, I do not engage with media on a regular basis, at least not in terms of watching social events.  In an effort to fulfill the assignment, I perused a variety of TED talks within the featured topic category and selected one that stood out the most to watch.  Each TED talk was accompanied by a 1” x 1” picture of the speaker and a title.  I selected a talk given by Daphne Bavelier entitled Your brain on video games (Bavelier, 2012).  At the time of selection I believed I selected the video because I had an appreciation for the topic; however, upon further reflection I realize my choice was far more complex than that.

One of my many interests is the way video games can be used for learning, especially in online programs or as treatment programs for individuals with ADHD.  At the time of selection I believe I had chosen the talk primarily for this reason.  However, I realized that although the topic was interesting there were other factors at work as well.  There were other topics of similar interest, but I had chosen this particular one.  The speaker for this talk was a woman, about my age, with short hair, and she was dressed similarly to the way I would dress.  It is possible that the title of the video met the criteria of the vividness factor of communicating a message through print, in addition to the speaker using a video in the background and the message being a video itself.  Further, the talk was salient because I selected a speaker who was similar to my self-schema concept, i.e., a woman researcher presenting information regarding the usefulness and benefits of video games for learning.  The information was accessible to me because it is one of my interests, and less than a year ago I completed my Master’s program in Instructional Design and Technology wherein one of my favorite topics was the use of video games in online learning.

Insight

I am familiar with the concepts of schemas, accessibility, vividness, saliency, and even self-schemas; however, I had never realized just how defining a self-schema can be to the making of my own seemingly random choices.  I have always believed I maintain an open mind, but now I am confronted with the real possibility that my biases are showing.  This information is particularly relevant and important to realize as I embark on a career as a scholar-practitioner.  If I want to be taken seriously within my field it is imperative that I maintain an objective outlook and continue to acquire information, for and against, my perspectives.  Enlightenment is a blessing.  Fortunately, the resources this week did indicate that hope was not lost.  “Schemas do change in response to clear disconfirmation, encounters with alternative schemas, and scrutiny of the unique individual instance” (Fiske, 2000, p. 160)

 

References

Accessible. (2007). In G. R. VandenBos (Ed.), APA Dictionary of Psychology (p. 7). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Baumeister, R. F., & Finkel, E. J. (2010).  Advanced social psychology: The state of the science.  [Kindle edition].  Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com

Bavelier, D. (2012, November). Your brain on video games [Video file]. Retrieved from Ted.com

Eisen, S. V., & McArthur, L. Z. (1979). Evaluating and sentencing a defendant as a function of his salience and the perceiver’s set. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 5(1), 48-52. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/014616727900500110

Fiske, S. T. (2000). Schema. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Encyclopedia of psychology, pp. 158-160). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Higgins, E. T., King, G. A., & Mavin, G. H. (1982). Individual construct accessibility and subjective impressions and recall. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43(1), 35-47. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0022-3514.43.1.35

Moskowitz, G. B. (2005). Social cognition: Understanding self and others. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Salient. (2007). In G. R. VandenBos (Ed.), APA Dictionary of Psychology (p. 810). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Taylor, S. E., & Thompson, S. C. (1982). Stalking the elusive “vividness” effect. Psychological Review, 89(1), 155-181. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037//0033-295X.89.2.155

Vivid data. (2007). In G. R. VandenBos (Ed.), APA Dictionary of Psychology (p. 988). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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