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Title: The role of cognitive control in selective attention : the effects of working memory load and multiple task coordination on distractor rejection
Author: Hirst, A. S.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 1999
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In this thesis, I propose that selective attention ensures that behaviour is driven by relevant rather than irrelevant stimuli by means of two separate mechanisms, an "early selection" mechanism, which allows for exclusion of irrelevant stimuli from perception and depends on perceptual load, and a "late selection" mechanism which prevents irrelevant responses towards perceived distractors and depends on cognitive control. Lavie (e.g. Lavie 1995) has demonstrated that early perceptual selection is found under conditions of high relevant perceptual load, when fewer resources are available for the processing of irrelevant stimuli. The present thesis focuses on processes of late selection which act to prevent goal-conflicting responses to distractors when these are perceived, in situations of low perceptual load. The hypothesis that active maintenance of the distinction between relevant and irrelevant stimuli and responses in such cases depends on cognitive control resources such as working memory was examined. It was predicted that higher load on cognitive control would result in deterioration of selective attention because fewer control resources would be available to prevent irrelevant stimuli from triggering conflicting responses. A review which links the two separate bodies of literature on selective attention and cognitive control provides some suggestive evidence for this hypothesis (Chapter 1). New empirical support for the hypothesis was provided by showing that distractor effects in a selective attention ask with a measure of response competition (e.g. Eriksen & Eriksen, 1974) were increased when high working memory load in short term recognition and recall tasks was added (chapters 2, 3) as well as when a greater demand was placed on control processes involved in multiple task coordination (chapter 4). Furthermore, this effect was shown to be dissociable and directly opposite to the effect of perceptual load on selective attention, thus supporting the proposed distinction between early and late selection mechanisms of attention.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available