Apertures, Draw, and Syntax: Remodeling Attention

In Effortless Attention: A New Perspective in the Cognitive Science of Attention and Action. MIT Press. pp. 219 (2010)
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Because psychological studies of attention and cognition are most commonly performed within the strict confines of the laboratory or take cognitively impaired patients as subjects, it is difficult to be sure that resultant models of attention adequately account for the phenomenon of effortless attention. The problem is not only that effortless attention is resistant to laboratory study. A further issue is that because the laboratory is the most common way to approach attention, models resulting from such studies are naturally the most widely propagated, these models naturally tend to be biased toward features of attention most amenable to laboratory study, and these models by their implications set the agenda for future study that leads back to the laboratory. In this self-reinforcing system, features of attention not amenable to laboratory study are naturally neglected by researchers. In this chapter, I suggest an alternative model of attention as a heuristic for opening paths to further profitable research. The features of attention emphasized in this model are not new, but the synthesis is novel and sheds some light on issues relevant to the topic of effortless attention. I begin with the five following observations: 1. One naturally pays attention to a task of current interest. 2. There are (at least) two distinct modes of attention—selective and diffuse. 3. Attention is a constantly shifting avenue for the assimilation of information. 4. Information is not forced in from outside but is captured through internal sensitization. 5. Human information processing is fundamentally syntactic. Combining these five observations yields an explanatory model of attention that is not only consistent with the data from the many studies on attention in recent decades but also allows us to investigate the neglected phenomenon of effortless attention. The model relies on the notions of apertures, draw, and syntax and is explicated by addressing each of the above observations in turn. In the final part of the chapter, I explore how the model expands our understanding of effortless attention.
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