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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Attentional Control: Strategies for Structuring Cognition

  • Author(s): Edelstein, Jesse Michael
  • Advisor(s): Heit, Evan
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License

Human attention is partly under voluntary control, and partly under involuntary control. (Posner & Petersen, 1990) In light of the fact of reflexive attention, how do we deploy voluntary (endogenous) attention to achieve our goals? In this thesis I first discuss the problem of attentional control and the history of its study. I present two series of experiments investigating attentional control, and what happens when attention lapses. In a first group of studies, subjects performed a spatial cuing task, in which some subjects received mostly valid cues and some received mostly incorrect cues, in an extension of spatial cuing to new dimensions of stimuli. In the second group of experiments, subjects received a creative task where they had to come up with answers to an open-ended task (Baird et al., 2012), then performed a distractor task, and finally returned to the initial task. By varying the attentive demands of the in-between task, I manipulated the level of subjects’ mind wandering, as detected by changes in creative incubation. From these experiments, I infer that humans’ attentional control strategies are adaptive and powerful, if not always consistent.

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