3.4 The ‘flanker’ effect

A potential problem for the feature integration theory is the fact that the time taken to understand the meaning of a printed word can be influenced by other, nearby words. Of itself, this is not surprising, because it is well known that one word can prime (i.e. speed decisions to) another related word; the example nurse – doctor was given in Section 1.4. However, Shaffer and LaBerge (1979) found priming effects, even when t
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2.1 Introduction

I introduced Section 1 by suggesting that the auditory system had a special problem: unlike the visual system, it needed processes which would permit a listener to attend to a specific set of sounds without being confused by the overlap of other, irrelevant noises. The implication of that line of argument was that vision had no need of any such system. However, although we do not see simultaneously everything that surrounds us, we can certainly see more than one thing at a time. Earlie
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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 a
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1.4 Eavesdropping on the unattended message

It was not long before researchers devised more complex ways of testing Broadbent's theory of attention, and it soon became clear that it could not be entirely correct. Even in the absence of formal experiments, common experiences might lead one to question the theory. An oft-cited example is the cocktail party effect. Imagine you are attending a noisy party, but your auditory location system is working wonderfully, enabling you to focus upon one particular conversation. Suddenly, from
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1.3 Attending to sounds

From the earlier sections, you will appreciate that the auditory system is able to separate different, superimposed sounds on the basis of their different source directions. This makes it possible to attend to any one sound without confusion, and we have the sensation of moving our ‘listening attention’ to focus on the desired sound. For example, as I write this I can listen to the quiet hum of the computer in front of me, or swing my attention to the bird song outside the window to
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1.2 Disentangling sounds

If you are still feeling aggrieved about the shortcomings of evolution, then you might take heart from the remarkable way in which the auditory system has evolved so as to avoid a serious potential problem. Unlike our eyes, our ears cannot be directed so as to avoid registering material that we wish to ignore; whatever sounds are present in the environment, we must inevitably be exposed to them. In a busy setting such as a party we are swamped by simultaneous sounds – people in different pa
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