With the transitionfrom childhood to adulthood, the general trend in developmental progress is anincrease in an individual’s psychological functioning. This includes mostcognitive and sensorimotor processes. The increases in progression aretypically correlated with the strengthening of neural connections in the brainand maturation of brain structures integral to these functions. However, anexception to this general trend is that with age, an individual’s performancedecreases when asked about uncued or search-irrelevant information (Plebanek& Sloutsky, 2017).
The main purpose of the experiments was to examine thisexception to the general trend of increasing psychological functions. Thehypothesis for both experiments conducted had the same general idea thatchildren who were younger would perform better than adults when asked aboutsearch-irrelevant features/uncued stimuli. The firstexperiment was a change-detection task where researchers predicted that theyounger children would divide their attention and focus on both cued and uncuedshapes. Even though the goal was not to detect changes in the uncued shape, thechildren would still be able to detect changes in the uncued stimulus (Plebanek& Sloutsky, 2017).
Participants were shown two shapes that were red andgreen overlaid on top of each other then asked about if there was a change in ashape. The cued shape that participants were primed to focus on was the redshape while the uncued shape was the green shape. Trials consisted of changing eitherthe cued or uncued shape or not changing either shape. The dependent variablewas change-detection accuracy. The independent variables included the differentages of the participants and the various trial types.
The results for thisexperiment provided evidence that supported the hypothesis. Childrenoutperformed adults when asked about changes to the uncued shapes while adultsperformed better than the children when asked about cued shape changes. For thisexperiment, the main effect was an inverse relationship between change-detectionaccuracy for uncued and participants’ ages. As age increased, change-detectionaccuracy for uncued stimuli decreased The secondexperiment was a visual search task that had various drawings of creatures withdifferent features. Participants were primed to focus on a relevant feature ofthe drawing while other features were considered irrelevant (Plebanek , 2017). There were three types of items: old items, new relevant itemsthat contained an old item with a new relevant feature, and new irrelevantitems that contained a new irrelevant feature. Change-detection accuracy forirrelevant information was the dependent variable and age of the participantswas the independent variable. Similar to the first experiment, children outperformedadults in recognizing irrelevant features while adults generally were better atidentifying relevant features.
The main effect was that as the age of theparticipant increased, their change-detection accuracy for search-irrelevantfeatures decreased. Areoccurring topic within the study is selective attention and the benefits orcosts of this cognitive process. Attention is typically divided into twocategories: focused versus divided. Focused attention, also known as selective attention,can be defined as the process we use when we are given two or more stimuli andmust focus on just one of the stimuli (Psych 240 lecture, 9/20/17). In otherwords, we select one specific feature or stimuli from the multiple ones we arepresented with to focus our attention on. How we choose what information weattend to and what we do with the information that is presented to us that weignore is examined in multiple different filtering models. There are threedifferent models that are discussed, but the most applicable model to theexperiments is the late filtering model.
Themain idea of the late filtering model is that we filter out unnecessaryinformation after we have already detected and recognized all of the stimulithat we are presented with (Psych 240 lecture, 9/20/17). This is not to implythat every bit of information we process is something that we are consciouslyaware of. Information is no longer noticed after it is recognized as beingunimportant. The developmental trend in a decrease in ability to notice changesin unattended stimuli/inputs could be evidence for this model. As found in bothstudies, as children continue to develop cognitively they perform more poorlywhen asked about uncued stimuli (Plebanek & Sloutsky, 2017). Once anindividual has reached developmental maturity, it seems that the late filteringmodel is what dictates our attention capabilities. Another important piece ofevidence discussed in the studies that supports this model is that in bothadults and children, there was still some recognition of uncued stimuli. Othermodels of attention filtering would not be able to explain how this informationwas able to reach conscious awareness.
Since every piece of information anindividual is presented with is assumed to be detected and recognized in thelate filtering model, it can be used to explain why even adults are still ableto have some conscious awareness of unattended messages. Another interesting aspect is how the youngestchildren performed better when asked about uncued stimuli. In combination withthe developmental reversal of attention, the late filtering model could aide inthe explanation of the results found. The children may have been led to believethat only cued information is important but choose not to as heavily filter outuncued stimuli as the adults. This may be important to the overall cognitivedevelopment of children as they learn about the world. A section of the articlegoes into detail about how the processing of information that is relevant to aspecific task and information that is not can cause an incidental learning ofinformation (Plebanek & Sloutsky, 2017). As children age, this weaker filter would no longer have thebenefit of providing them with more information about the world around them andthus it is more selective with the information that we become consciously awareof.
These findings could have a benefit in creating more effective learningenvironments. Having an understanding of how children process information thatis and is not relevant to the goal of whatever they are working on may helpeducators develop ways to teach children information in a way that willincrease their understanding of the material. Researchers can use what iscurrently known about attention in addition to the findings of the study tocreate a more complete understanding of the way a child’s mind works and howthey see the world. This could also be useful for parents as well as when theyhave an understanding of how their children are viewing the world, they arebetter able to communicate with them and parent them in ways that are built uponan awareness that their minds our structured differently than adults.Plebanek &Sloutsky (2017) go into detail of how the accuracy of participants’ responses forboth experiments was calculated using the signal detection matrix. Whenexamining the ability to identify relevant features, a hit was when theparticipant responded to seeing old items by correctly identifying them as oldwhile false alarms were when participants were presented with new, relevantitems and incorrectly responded stating that they were old items.
For theaccuracy on identification of irrelevant features, hits and false alarms weredefined the same as they were for identification of relevant features (Plebanek& Sloutsky, 2017). This can be connected to a theory that addresses whatcauses or influences us to have these false alarms: the signal detectiontheory. The main point that this theory tries to get across is the idea that weare influenced by factors such as bias or expectations when we are makingdecisions that involve detections, such as identifying if there was a change ina shape we were not attending to (Psych 240 lecture, 9/18/17). The signaldetection theory examines how the payoff or expectations that someone has influencestheir likelihood of responding a specific way.
The bias can work either way,either to say yes and increase false hits or to respond with no and increasemisses (Psych 240 lecture, 9/18/17). Anadditional idea that could help explain the differences found between adultshaving a more difficult time identifying if there were changes in the uncuedstimuli could be that there were no benefits to correctly identify changes inthese stimuli. Plebanek & Sloutsky (2017) states the experiments featurewarm-up phases where the participants were taught the rules of the tasks. Forexample, for the first change-detection experiment included a cuing phase thatwas meant to influence the participants’ attention toward noticing when changesoccurred with cued stimuli Thus, the older participants had an idea that thestudy was seeing if they would notice changes with the cued stimuli and thusfocused their attention on that factor.
A possiblereason that the older participants had this idea could be due toautomatization. This process is when an average task is repeated or practicedoften enough to where completing the task becomes automatic (Sternberg &Sternberg, 2017, p.145). Adults may have previous experiences with taskssimilar to the one in the experiment where the goal was to detect changes instimuli. During those previous events, the individuals could have been rewardedfor high change-detection accuracy. Thus when they realize that the setup ofthe task within the experiment is similar to others they have encountered, theyautomatically begin to detect changes in the cued stimuli. This could havecreated a bias against correctly identifying when an uncued stimuli was changedsince the participants had the expectation that in order to be performing thetask correctly, they needed to solely focus on the cued stimuli. This in combinationwith the conclusion of both experiments that adults have a more difficult timeidentifying search-irrelevant features could have influenced the differencebetween adults and children in their results.
Further studies in the futurecould examine what, if any, link exists between signal detection theory andattention. The informationcollected from the study is important as it provides evidence that selectiveattention in children is not as rigid as the selective attention adults have (Plebanek& Sloutsky, 2017). The results can also be connected back to differenttopics surrounding the overall idea of attention.
What was observed within the experimentsregarding information filter is related to signal detection theory. The resultsof these experiments can be used to identify what or how different factorsinfluence what we will answer, such as age relating to what filtration model isused. An important factor that may have been connected to the decrease inchange-detection accuracy as age increase is automatization of change-detectiontasks to only focus on cued stimuli.