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Theory of attention

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In the 1950's and 1960's the dominant theory of attention was the bottleneck theory, stating humans act as a single communication channel of limited capacity at some part in an information processing sequence. Dichotic listening tasks were devised to illustrate this theory; early studies showed that people are very good at processing only one of two physically distinct concurrent sources of information. The resource theory however assumes that attention can be regarded as a single reservoir of information processing resources. (Reason, 1990) The idea of attention is critical when examining actions and intentions. Normans and Shallices attention to action theory argues there are two control structures; horizontal and vertical threads. Horizontal threads comprise of processing structures called schemas and vertical threads interact with the horizontal threads to provide the means by which attentional and habitual factors activate schemas. Horizontal threads govern habitual activity without the need for attentional control. (Reason, 1990) Later on, the role in which schemas play in action slips, an error which occurs when a person does an action that is not intended (Norman, DA, 1981) will be examined as will the role of slips and mistakes with expert users of computer programs. ...read more.


Intentions are made up of goal intentions and instrumental (contingent) intentions. Should there be problems in the initiation, implementation or termination of an intended act instrumental intentions will be generated to overcome these. There are two modes for conscious processing of goal intentions; wide goal span which relieves action control from having to focus attention on current activity and permits conscious processing of overlapping cognitive activities, which may be related or unrelated and narrow goal span whereby all attentional capacity is absorbed by the ongoing activity. Action slips are most likely to occur whenever a course of action has become automated to such an extent that it no longer requires conscious control. There are three major categories of action slips; initiation slips, implementation and termination slips.(Heckhausen and Beckman, 1990) Initiation slips include missing an opportunity; an interpolated action cannot be initiated because it is embedded in an automated segment of the mind. Overspecified opportunities occur because of a failure to recognise an opportunity because it was too narrowly or broadly delineated during the formation of initiation intent. Underspecified opportunities are the pouncing on an inappropriate opportunity because of its underspecification. Falsely specified opportunities occur when the initiating act is inappropriate, in order to subvert conscious control there must be a functional or structural ...read more.


Candidate object selection is performed on the basis of evaluation. Card, Moran and Newell (1983); as cited in Kitajama and Polson (1983) studied skilled computer users and found errors were made on 37% of command sequences describing editing. Over half of these errors were detected and corrected. 21% of the commands resulted in an incorrect edit and required additional edits to correct, showing that a slip has only been detected after an action sequence has been performed therefore no conscious monitoring of behaviour was occurring. However the majority of errors made by expert computer users were detected and corrected before a slip generated an incorrect result. Card at al (1983), experts accept high error rates because error recover can be done easily and rapidly. Experts trade speed for accuracy, resulting in slips. Strength of Kitjama and Polson's (1983) model is that it generates correct actions without assuming a special set of mechanisms for erroneous action. The theory by Norman (1981) and Heckhausen and Beckman (1990) both categorise slips into types, some of which overlap. It is difficult to interpret slips made by expert computer users in light of these theories, Kitjama and Polson used a different model to explain slips. To further understand and interpret errors made by expert computer users further research applying these theories to these errors would develop knowledge in this field. ...read more.

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