Internal Seminar: The focus of attention: a perspective from working memory

Tuesday 10 October 2017, 4.00PM to 5.00pm

Speaker(s): Professor Graham Hitch


The concept of a limited capacity focus of attention is frequently invoked in discussions of perception, cognition and action and is a central feature of working memory.  Despite this, we know surprisingly little about it, and what little we know is contested. Recent experiments by our group on the effects of prioritizing part of the information in visual working memory suggest that the object of attention is limited to a single item and is highly labile, reflecting competing demands of dealing with external perceptual input and exercising internal executive control. This property stands in contrast to conclusions drawn retro-cuing, the standard method for investigating the focus of attention. These emphasise the stability conferred by attending to information in working memory. We are beginning to gather evidence suggesting how this discrepancy might be resolved. This in turn suggests that future progress will depend on identifying universal properties of the focus of attention and distinguishing them from properties reflecting the different ways it can be configured to perform any specific task. This requires a broadly-based converging operations approach that avoids undue reliance on any one approach, however fashionable and attractive it may seem.

Location: PS/B020