Describe and Discuss One or More Explanations of Divided Attention

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Divided attention refers to the ability to divide ones attention between two or more tasks. The focused attention models explain how all our inputs are focused on one task at any one time, however it is clear from looking at everyday life that we are able to divide our attention, successfully being able to complete more than one task at the same time. There are two main explanations of divided attention, one is the modular theories and the one I will be focusing on; the capacity model by Kanheman.

Kanheman (1973) put forward the capacity/resource allocation model of attention. This is one of the best known models and suggests that humans have a limited amount of processing capacity and whether two or more tasks can be performed together successfully depends on how much demand they make on this limited capacity processor. This idea of a limited capacity is very probable and has been clear to be the case from earlier research carried out on divided attention.

As well as the capacity, external factors such as heat, noise, anxiety and lack of sleep may also affect performance on tasks related to attention (Revelle). Findings such as these do support the capacity models of attention.

According to Kanheman different tasks require a different amount of processing. So, easy tasks will require little processing capacity and leave plenty available for carrying out another task at the same time, whereas more difficult tasks require a lot more processing capacity, so maybe can only be carried simultaneously with another task which doesn't require so much. The amount of capacity that a task requires depends on a number of things such as its difficulty and past experience of the task. If past experience of the task is increased, and p...

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...a circular argument by Allport (1980). He says that it is too easy to explain the findings from dual task experiments in terms of central capacity. So if two tasks can be performed simultaneously it's because they don't exceed the central capacity and if they cannot be performed then it is because the combined effort needed to accomplish the tasks exceeds the capacity. This may be the case, but there is no independent definition of the central processing capacity. So, task difficulty cannot be defined. The argument is circular as difficult tasks require more attention and tasks that require more attention are difficult.

In conclusion, the central capacity theory although being an advance on earlier theories, cannot account for the effects of task similarity on dual task performance and it has been accused of being descriptive rather than explanatory (Allport).

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