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1.5 Summary of Section 1

The auditory system is able to process sounds in such a way that, although several may be present simultaneously, it is possible to focus upon the message of interest. However, in experiments on auditory attention, there have been contradictory results concerning the fate of the unattended material:

  • The auditory system processes mixed sounds in such a way that it is possible to focus upon a single wanted message.

  • Unattended material appears not to be processed:

    • The listener is normally unable to report significant details concerning the unattended information.

    • Only the most recent unattended material is available, while still preserved in the echoic memory.

  • These results suggest parallel acquisition of all available information, followed by serial processing to determine meaning for one attended message.

  • Although there is little conscious awareness of unattended material, it may receive more processing than the above results imply:

    • Words presented to the unattended ear can produce priming and physiological effects.

    • Participants trying to ‘shadow’ one ear will follow the message to the other ear.

  • These results imply that processing takes place in parallel, to the extent that meaning is extracted even from unattended material.


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