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Attention/Cognitive Psychology/Matthews: attention is conventionally divided into several aspects or branches (Matthews, Davies, Westerman and Stammers 2000)(1).
Selective attention refers to focusing on a source of stimuli (while ignoring distractors), divided attention to processing multiple input channels, and sustained attention to maintaining an attentional focus over extended time periods. Each one of these broad attentional functions appears to be supported by a number of separate processing components and brain systems.
A well-regarded theory of the cognitive neuroscience of attention developed by Michael Posner (e.g., Posner and DiGirolamo 1998)(2) states that different cues are processed by different brain attentional systems. Sensory cues presented at the periphery engage a ‘posterior’ system concerned with visual orienting. Symbolic cues (an arrow pointing left or right) presented at the centre of the visual field activate an ‘anterior’ system that implements executive control of the system. In addition, manipulating the time interval between onsets of the cue and the target may differentiate unconscious priming effects from conscious attention.
Poy, del Carmen Eixarch and Avila (2004)(3) employed a ‘covert visual orienting’ task, in which subjects were required to respond to a target stimulus (a white asterisk) that might appear on either the left or the right side of the visual field.
Poy et al. (2004)(3) suggest that sensitivity to peripheral cues affords earlier threat detection in anxious individuals. This example shows how, by using an informed choice of tasks and performance measures, traits may be linked to specific information-processing mechanisms. Cf. >Resources/Cognitive Psychology, >Working Memory/Cognitive Psychology.
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Variation of personality effects with overall workload may imply a capacity-based mechanism. Studies of dual-task performance are also important; traits may relate to the amount of dual-task interference seen when attention is overloaded.
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Most recently, studies of sustained attention showing loss of perceptual sensitivity over time have been attributed to resource depletion (Warm, Matthews and Finomore 2008)(4).
1. Matthews, G., Davies, D. R., Westerman, S. J. and Stammers, R. B. 2000. Human performance: cognition, stress and individual differences. London: Psychology Press
2. Posner, M. I. and DiGirolamo, G. J. 1998. Executive attention: conflict, target detection and cognitive control, in R. Parasuraman (ed.), The attentive brain, pp. 401–23. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press
3. Poy, R., del Carmen Eixarch, M. and Avila, C. 2004. On the relationship between attention and personality: covert visual orienting of attention in anxiety and impulsivity, Personality and Individual Differences 36:
4. Warm, J. S., Matthews, G. and Finomore, V. S. 2008. Workload and stress in sustained attention, in P. A. Hancock and J. L. Szalma (eds.), Performance under stress, pp. 115–41. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing
Gerald Matthews, „ Personality and performance: cognitive processes and models“, in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press_____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Philip J. Corr
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009