9.00SC | Fall 2011 | Undergraduate

Introduction to Psychology


« Previous | Next »

Session Overview

Do you ever get distracted when you are supposed to be focused? Why do we pay attention to something? How are we able to pay attention to certain things while ignoring others? Attention is present in almost all domains of human thought and feeling. During this session, we will focus on visual attention and explore how certain things can captivate our attention.

Keywords: attention, Stroop effect, hypnosis, top-down, bottom-up, attentional blink, multiple object tracking, subliminal perception, cocktail party effect

Image by miamism on Flickr.

Session Activities


Read the following before watching the lecture video.

Lecture Videos

View Full Video

View by Chapter

Video Resources

Discussion: Attention

Today we’re also going to talk about attention. How we engage with the world, but only a small part of it at a time. Why we can’t engage with the whole thing, and what it would be like to engage with the whole thing. Limits on our attention: why we can’t perceive everything at once…. Read more »

Check Yourself

Describe an example of selective attention. Does selective attention completely block out all other sensory input? If not give an example. What are the advantages and disadvantages of processes involved in selective attention?

Sample Answer

One example of selective attention is the ability to focus on one person speaking in a crowd of people speaking. Selective attention does not completely block out all other sensory input. For example, the cocktail party phenomenon occurs when we are only attending to and aware of one person speaking. We seem to have no attention to the surrounding conversations. However, if someone says your name or something related to you, you quickly divert our attention to the person that said your name. Therefore, while consciously unaware of the surrounding sensory input, our brains are constantly monitory surrounding input.

The advantage of selective attention is that it allows us to focus on important elements of our environment while blocking out things that could be distracting. This is especially important for survival in dangerous situations. However, focusing too much on one thing could be a disadvantage if other things in the environment require more urgent focus. The “cocktail party phenomenon” is a process that allows us to monitor the environment while still focusing our attention on important things.

Further Study

These optional resources are provided for students that wish to explore this topic more fully.

Additional reading Cherry, E. “Some Experiments on the Recognition of Speech, with One and with Two Ears.” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 25, no. 5 (1953). (PDF - 1.4MB) E. Colin Cherry’s original 1953 selective attention experiment. The study describes an experiment involving dichotic listening, a demonstration of which was performed during lecture but removed for privacy reasons.
Textbook supplement Study materials for Ch. 4, “Sensation and Perception: How the World Enters the Mind.” In Kosslyn & Rosenberg, Psychology in Context, 3/e (Pearson, 2007) Practice test questions, flashcards, and media for a related textbook

« Previous | Next »

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2011
Learning Resource Types
Lecture Videos
Lecture Notes
Exams with Solutions
Instructor Insights