Kd's e-pathsala Educational Psychology Different Theories of Attention

Different Theories of Attention

Theories of Attention

Various educationists have discussed several theories according to the need of attention in the field of education. The main point of all the information is how this attention can be applied in the field of education. A few such attention theories-grabbing facts are –


Broadbent’s Filter Model

Broadbent is credited with the first model of attention, often described as a “bottleneck theory” because information had to be filtered to restrict the flow to a cognitively manageable amount (Anderson et al., 2002).  In 1958, Broadbent published a seminal paper on selective attention that not only set the path for future research but, perhaps more importantly, established a cognitive approach to psychology.  This  marked a clear theoretical break from the behaviourist’s “black box” theory of the mind that regarded internal processing as both speculative and unnecessary (Bargh, 1996).


Information from all of the stimuli presented at any given time enters an unlimited capacity sensory buffer. One of the inputs is then selected on the basis of its physical characteristics for further processing by being allowed to pass through a filter.

Fig : Broadbent’s Filter Model


The inputs not initially selected by the filter remain briefly in the sensory buffer store, and if they are not processed they decay rapidly.  Broadbent assumed that the filter rejected the unattended message at an early stage of processing. According to Broadbent the meaning of any of the messages is not taken into account at all by the filter.  All semantic processing is carried out after the filter has selected the message to pay attention to. So whichever message(s) restricted by the bottleneck (i.e. not selective) is not understood.


One of the ways Broadbent achieved this was by simultaneously sending one message to a person’s right ear and a different message to their left ear. This is called a split span experiment (also known as the dichotic listening task).


Dichotic Listening Task

Broadbent employed dichotic listening experiments (where subjects heard different auditory tracks in each ear) to test the hypothesis that people have an internal, intentional selection or filtering method that directs attention to focus on certain stimuli over others. His filter theory was a serial processing “early-selection” model where the filtering occurred in the early stages of information processing based on physical properties, such as pitch or volume.  In the bottleneck model, attention is directed to the information that passes the filter or to salient information that leads to a shift in attention limited by single channel processing (Anderson et al., 2002).


Evaluation of Broadbent’s Model

1. Broadbent’s theory predicts that hearing your name when you are not paying attention should be impossible because unattended messages are filtered out before you process the meaning – thus the model cannot account for the ‘Cocktail Party Phenomenon’.

2. Other researchers have demonstrated the ‘cocktail party effect’ (Cherry, 1953) under experimental conditions and have discovered occasions when information heard in the unattended ear ‘broke through’ to interfere with information participants are paying attention to in the other ear.

Resource allocation Theory of Attention

The word resource here means attentional capacity. In this theory, the attentional capacity of each individual is limited at any given time. The limited capacity of attention to divide attention into multiple things is what the theory of attentional division tries to explain.

When a person initially encounters a new situation, his full attention is focused on the new stimulus, but when paying attention to the same stimulus again and again, there is no problem, even if it is not full attention, as long as the rest of the attention can be completed. As Swami Vivekananda explained his ability to finish reading a book in a very short time. He said that this can be done by emphasising the habit of attention. Just as when a small child first learns to read, he pays attention to each letter of each word separately.


Modern views of Attention

Attention is the important ability to flexibly control limited computational resources. It has been studied in conjunction with many other topics in neuroscience and psychology including awareness, vigilance, saliency, executive control, and learning. Attention is an important condition for selective mental processes, storage or retention. Analyzing the nature of attention, it can be said with certainty that attention is an internal process that is always present in humans. Cognitive psychologists see our mental processes as memory, thinking, learning, perception etc. as a series of interrelated integrated mental parts. That is, none of these mental functions work independently. They work as a unified process.


Attention is the mental process by which a single selected stimulus is brought to the centre of consciousness. Attention is a natural intermediate layer that acts as a link between stimuli and subsequent cognitive mental processes. For this reason the judgement of whether attention is optional or involuntary is not so important, nor is it a matter of judgement what attention is drawn to under any given condition. Attention is needed to know, understand or judge something. So some psychologists call attention to the brain of conscious processes. This interpretation of attention in teaching and learning is significant because in the classroom we can only achieve temporary success by artificially applying conditions of attention to attract and hold students’ attention, but if we can properly stimulate the organization of knowledge, the construction of which is individual, attention automatically bridges the gap. will work Attention is needed to know, understand or judge something.