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Scope of attention

Author: Dr Simon Moss

Overview

Sometimes, a common word, like table, elicits awareness of many other concepts, some of which are only remotely related to this object. For example, if individuals are asked to specify the words they associate with table, they might articulate terms like legs, fables, mathematics, or Blackjack. These individuals demonstrate a broad scope of attention (Martingdale, 1981, 1995).

In contrast, words might also elicit awareness of a confined set of concepts only, all of which are highly related to this object. If asked to specify the words they associate with table, some individuals might articulate terms like chair or cloth only. These individuals demonstrate a narrow scope of attention (Martingdale, 1981, 1995).

Since the 1960s, scientists who have examined scope of attention have uncovered some interesting insights. Individuals who demonstrate an elevated scope of attention, as measured by the remote associates test (for more information, see insight tests), tend to be more creative (Mednick, 1962). That is, they express more original and useful suggestions to solve problems. In addition, some effortless exercises, such as raising eyebrows, has been shown to extend this scope of attention and thus enhance creativity (Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003).

Measure and manipulations of conceptual and perceptual scope of attention

Conceptual attention

Many scholars differentiate conceptual and perceptual scope of attention (e.g., Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003& Anderson & Spellman, 1995& Neumann & DeSchepper, 1992). Scope of conceptual attention represents the extent to which individuals are likely to consider, process, or articulate a diverse range of concepts at one time (Martingdale, 1981, 1995). Scope of perceptual attention represents the degree to which individuals are able to consider, process, or articulate a broad range of tangible stimuli at the same time (Posner, 1987).

The various measures of conceptual and perceptual scope of attention clarify this difference. A variety of measures have been utilized to assess conceptual attention. To illustrate, in a study conducted by Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, and Werth (2003), seven names of categories were presented: birds, colors, fruits, furniture, sports, vegetables, and vehicles. For each category, participants were asked to specify, as rapidly as possible, the most unusual example they could uncover. Thirteen independent judges rated the extent to which each answer was typical or atypical. Atypical responses were assumed to represent a broad, rather than narrow, scope of conceptual attention.

Many other tasks might also manifest scope of attention. One example is the remote associates task, in which individuals need to ascertain a word that relates to a series of three other terms& goat, pass, and top, for example, are all related to mountain (Mednick, 1962). If the three words are not closely related to the answer, correct responses are assumed to represent a broad scope of attention (cf., Martingdale, 1981, 1995). Similarly, individuals who can derive many words from a single set of letters, such as "GTSOA", are also assumed to demonstrate a broad scope of conceptual attention (Forster, Friedman, Ozelsela, & Denzler, 2006)--an inclination that predicts creativity.

Perceptual attention

Several tasks have been developed to measure or manipulate scope of perceptual attention. To measure perceptual attention, participants must connect dots, each of which are numbered, in ascending order, within a limited timeframe. Connecting these dots generates a picture. Successful performance on this task is assumed to represent a narrow scope of perceptual attention (Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003). If individuals adopt a broad scope of perceptual attention, they will often orient their attention to the overall pattern--in this instance, a doctor cycling past a camel--and thus tend to overlook specific numbers.

Alternatively, a set of small letters, such as Fs or Ts, are arranged to form larger letters, such as Hs and Es. Some participants can more rapidly identify the smaller letters than the larger letters--a tendency that represents a narrow scope of perceptual attention (Forster, Friedman, Ozelsela, & Denzler, 2006). Other participants can more rapidly identify the larger letters--an inclination that represents a broad scope of perceptual attention (Forster, Friedman, Ozelsela, & Denzler, 2006).

A variety of protocols have also been developed to manipulate the scope of perceptual attention. To illustrate, a matrix of numbers might be presented, such as 3 rows of three numbers. The task of participants is to ascertain whether the matrix includes a specific number, such as 3. To evoke a broad scope of perceptual attention, the numbers might be distributed across the entire screen. To evoke a narrow scope of perceptual attention, the numbers might be concentrated towards the centre of this screen (e.g., Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003). When these numbers are concentrated together, participants perform more effectively on the task in which they need to connect the numbered dots--a measure of perceptual attention (Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003).

Alternatively, a map of the US might appear on the screen. To elicit a broad scope of perceptual attention, some participants might be asked to focus attention on a state. To elicit a narrow scope, other participants might be asked to direct their attention towards a specific star on the map, which represents a particular city. When participants focus on one star, their conceptual attention, as measured by whether or not they can uncover unusual exemplars of a category, is narrow (Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003).

Finally, to evoke a broad scope of perceptual attention, participants might be instructed to execute some motor response that usually coincides with an extensive purview, such as raising their eyebrows. To elicit a narrow scope of perceptual attention, participants might be told to execute a motor response that typically coincides with a confined focus of visual attention, such as furrowing the eyebrows. Indeed, when eyebrows are furrowed, creativity diminishes, which implies that conceptual attention, a correlate of perceptual attention, is restricted (Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003).

Determinants of perceptual and conceptual scope of attention

Association between perceptual and conceptual scope of attention

Perceptual and conceptual scope of attention seem to be related to one another (Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003& Anderson & Spellman, 1995& Neumann & DeSchepper, 1992). For example, when individuals focus attention on numbers that are concentrated rather than distributed across a screen, which confines the scope of perceptual attention, the capacity to uncover creative uses of a brick--a manifestation of the scope of conceptual attention--deteriorates (Friedman, Fishbach, Forster, & Werth, 2003). Likewise, furrowing rather than raising eyebrows, which confined perceptual attention, compromises the ability to uncover many creative uses of scissors.

Mood

Wadlinger and Isaacowitz (2006) examined whether positive mood states might extend the scope of attention (for other relevant findings, see Broaden and build theory. When mood was positive, participants were especially likely to direct their gaze to pictures that appear towards the periphery, rather than centre, of the screen, indicating that perceptual attention was widened.

Interestingly, in this study, participants were especially inclined to direct their orientation towards positive, rather than negative, pictures in the periphery. Presumably, these positive mood states increase the sensitivity of individuals towards unexpected opportunities--which demands attention to positive stimuli outside focal attention (Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2006).

Approach and avoidance motivation

Sometimes, individuals are primarily motivated to approach positive stimuli (see Approach and avoidance motivation). This motivation might be instilled if individuals are told they will be paid $5 to complete a task, but will receive a $5 bonus if they complete the task effectively. In contrast, individuals in other circumstances are generally motivated to avoid negative stimuli. This motivation is elicited if individuals are told they will be paid $10 to complete a task, but $5 will be deducted if they do not complete the task effectively: Typically, the motivation to approach positive stimuli, rather than avoid negative stimuli, extends both perceptual and conceptual attention (Forster, Friedman, Ozelsela, & Denzler, 2006).

Related concepts

Inhibition of return

One mechanism that could increase the scope of attention is called inhibition of return. Inhibition of return was initially uncovered in the realm of perceptual attention (Posner & Cohen, 1984& Posner, Rafal, Choate, & Vaughan, 1985). Specifically, in a typical study, a stimulus, such as a letter, appears in one location on a screen. Over the next half a second or so, people are slower to detect another stimulus at this location. That is, after people direct their attention to one location, they cannot as readily direct their attention back to this location again, at least for a short while, called inhibition of return. This inhibition of return prompts individuals to distribute their attention across a broader space.

Johnson, Higgins, Norman, Sederberg, Smith, and Johnson (2013) showed this inhibition of return can also be observed in the realm of conceptual attention. In one study, a pair of words, such as bedlam and cutlet, was presented on a screen and then disappeared. Next, an arrow pointed to the previous location of one of these words. Participants then stated this word aloud, such as "cutlet". Finally, half a second later, participants were told to read a final word that appeared on the screen& this final word could be one of two previous words, such as bedlam or cutlet, or another term, such as rudder.

Inhibition of return was observed. For example, if the arrow pointed to "cutlet", participants were slower to articulate this word half a second later but not slower to articulate the other word, such as "bedlam". The attention that was devoted to cutlet could not be readily returned to this word. Yet, a recognition test, twenty minutes later, showed that people were more likely to recognize the words to which the arrow had pointed& inhibition of return, therefore, does not endure. A subsequent study showed a similar pattern of observations with pictures.

References

Anderson, M. C., & Neely, J. H. (1996). Interference and inhibition in memory retrieval. In E. L. Bjork & R. A. Bjork (Eds.), Memory (pp. 237-313). New York: Academic Press.

Anderson, M. C., & Spellman, B. A. (1995). On the status of inhibitory mechanisms in cognition: Memory retrieval as a model case. Psychological Review, 102, 68-100.

Forster, J., Friedman, R. S., Ozelsela, A., & Denzler, M. (2006). Enactment of approach and avoidance behavior influences the scope of perceptual and conceptual attention. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 133-146.

Friedman, R. S., Fishbach, A., Forster, J., & Werth, L. (2003). Attentional priming effects on creativity. Creativity Research Journal, 15, 277-286.

Johnson, M. R., Higgins, J. A., Norman, K. A., Sederberg, P. B., Smith, T. A., & Johnson, M. K. (2013). Foraging for thought: An inhibition-of-return-like effect resulting from directing attention within working memory. Psychological Science, 24, 1104-1112. doi: 10.1177/0956797612466414

Martindale, C. (1981). Cognition and consciousness. Homewood, IL: Dorsey.

Martindale, C. (1995). Creativity and connectionism. In S. M. Smith, T. B. Ward, & R. A. Finke (Eds.), The creative cognition approach (pp. 249-268). Cambridge, MA: Bradford.

Mednick, S. A. (1962). The associative basis of the creative process. Psychological Review, 69, 220-232.

Neumann, E., & DeSchepper, B. G. (1992). An inhibition-based fan effect: Evidence for an active suppression mechanism in selective attention. Canadian Journal of Psychology, 46, 11-50.

Posner, M. I. (1987). Selective attention and cognitive control. Trends in Neuroscience, 10, 13-17.

Posner, M. I., & Cohen, Y. (1984). Components of visual orienting. In H. Bouma & D. Bouwhuis (Eds.), Attention and performance (Vol. X, pp. 531



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Last Update: 7/6/2016