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1 Auditory attention

1.1 Introduction

To cover some of the concept of attention (we have only a course, and there are whole books on the subject) I shall follow an approximately historical sequence, showing how generations of psychologists have tackled the issues and gradually refined and developed their theories. You will discover that initially there seemed to them to be only one role for attention, but that gradually it has been implicated in an ever-widening range of mental processes. As we work through the subject, two basic issues will emerge. One is concerned with the mechanisms of attention, and raises questions such as:

  • How much material can we take in at once?

  • What happens to information to which we did not attend?

  • In what circumstances does attention fail, allowing unwanted information to influence or distract us?

The other theme has a more philosophical flavour, and raises questions concerning why we experience the apparent limitations of attention:

  • Are the limitations simply an inevitable characteristic of a finite brain?

  • Have we evolved to exhibit attention – that is, does it confer advantages?

We shall begin to explore these issues by looking at the ways in which one of our senses (hearing) has developed to facilitate attention.


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