Good Example Of Relationship Between Attention And Awareness Essay
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Relationship between Attention and Awareness
This paper will try to establish the relationship between attention and awareness. Attention has been defined by William James as “the taking possession of the mind, in clear and vivid form of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought (Gitelman, 2015). On the other hand, awareness is defined generally as the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact (“Awareness,”2015). Attention and awareness have a unitary relationship, which will be discussed in this paper.
The relationship between attention and awareness has raised questions that triggered psychologists to conduct researches in order to further investigate this connection the and how they are interdependent with each other as two aspects of the human brain.
The nature of attention is described as follows:(1) it focuses consciousness on a certain object; (2) it constantly shifts and changes; (3) it is selective; (4) it is a mental process; (5) it is a state of preparedness or alertness; and (6) it has narrow range or span (Lawrence, 2015).
It is important to reiterate first the different types of attention in establishing the two aspects of the human brain. In particular, the two types of attention: overt and covert. Overt attention is the act of focusing the sense organs in a particular stimulus source (“Attention in Psychology,”2015). On the other hand, covert attention is directing one’s attention in a particular stimulus (“Attention in Psychology,” 2015).
There are also forms of attention which are voluntary, involuntary, and non-voluntary or spontaneous. Voluntary attention is the actively self-initiated activity by a person (Lawrence, 2015). According to Lawrence (2015), this is a type of attention where a person should focus on something. This clearly states that a person should exert effort to direct their attention to a stimulus. Lawrence (2015) defined involuntary attention as occurring when a person directs their attention in an effortlessly way and when this does not go against their will. Lawrence (2015) cited that involuntary attention is a result of the reaction based on one’s instinct and sentiments. An example of this is a mother’s attention to her child, which does not need effort since it is an automatic response as a mother. Non-voluntary attention, on the other hand, is the attention that is sustained by a stimulus (Lawrence, 2015).
It has been defined earlier that awareness is the perception of a situation. Awareness has two types which are ‘phenomenal’ and ‘access’ awareness. According to Singer (2006), phenomenal awareness is the ability to be conscious of one’s feelings, which surface from the representation of the brain’s cognitive processes through repetition, in turn producing representations of the outer world. Access awareness is called ‘limited’ or focuses only for the direct control of action or thought (Singer, 2006).
Relationship between Attention and Awareness
Studies have proven the association of attention to awareness. In the book of Mole, Declan and Wu (2011), they state that the relationship between attention and awareness is a complex thing to establish. According to Mole et al. (2011), the use of the theory attention-consciousness relationship will help shed some light in the relationship between the two. This refers to the gateway of consciousness. In their study, Gaal and Fahrenfort (2008) said that attention and awareness have a close relationship but that one should be able to detect the things that entail this relationship.
Attention and Awareness as Distinct Neural Processes
In the study of Culham, Cavanagh, and Kanwisher (2001), the parts of the brain responsible for attention response functions are the frontal and parietal cortical areas. Anterior cingulate is also activated during this process which facilitates the suitable responses for giving attention. When there is a change for the attention the parts of the brain that activated are the right supplementary motor area and the cingulated, bilateral, prefrontal, frontal and parietal areas. On the other hand, for recalling task awareness, the parts of the brain that are involved are the prefrontal and temporal cortex and the basal ganglia bilateral and left thalamus.
Wyart and Tallon-Baudry (as cited in Gaal & Fahrenfort, 2008) conducted a study to determine these two brain processes. In their experiment, they tracked the magnetoencephalographic signals of the participants during their performance of a task, which were faint gratings. These were presented in locations that were attended and unattended. Moreover, in some presentations, a stimulus was not used (Gaal & Fahrenfort, 2008). After each presentation, the participants identified the orientations that were the same as those presented to them earlier (Gaal & Fahrenfort, 2008). Two classifications of trial came up, which were aware and unaware. Aware meant that grating was discovered and that the orientation was identified correctly. On the other hand, unaware meant that grating was not discovered and that the orientation was identified incorrectly (Gaal & Fahrenfort, 2008). The results revealed that spatial attention led to a higher probability of conscious report. More participants were also able to identify the gratings in the attended location as opposed to those in the unattended location (Gaal & Fahrenfort, 2008). From the data gathered, Wyart and Tallon-Baudry were able to conclude that awareness and attention are related to each other, but only in the behavioral level and not in the neural level (Gaal & Fahrenfort, 2008). The two suggested that attention and visual awareness independently contribute to a third neural activity category, which concerns the way that the absence or presence of a stimulus is perceived (Gaal & Fahrenfort, 2008). This type of perception is associated to visual awareness itself and to the conscious perception of the stimulus’ presence (Gaal & Fahrenfort, 2008). The other perception is somehow related to the two types of awareness, which strengthens the fact that awareness-related activities precede attention-related activities. On the other hand, the study conducted by Wyart and Tallon-Baudry (2008) where they tracked the magnetoencephalographic signals as the participants attended away or toward faint stimuli suggested that “subjective visual experience is shaped by the cumulative contribution of two processes operating independently at the neural level, one reflecting visual awareness and the other reflecting spatial attention” (Wyart and Tallon-Baudry, 2008, p. 2667).
According to Lamme (2004), one of the important things in conscious experience is to know that people are selective of what they see. This selective attention happens when a person views something and it is changed because of change blindness and inattentional blindness, which occur when one of the items changes identity, color, and position or disappears altogether (Lamme, 2004). Now if a person had detected that something was wrong or changed in the stimulus, attention comes in. Lamme (2004) said that a stimulus attended to or understood by the person himself knows how to discover stimulus even when it is modified using change and inattentional blindness. In a study by Vandenbroucke, Fahrenfort, Sligte et al. (2014) where they used MRI to record the brain activity of participants who viewed images that had a Kanizsa figure while engaged in an attentionally demanding distractor task, it was found that the stimuli that failed to undergo cognitive processing underwent processing only up to levels of perceptual interpretation (Vandenbroucke et al., 2014).
Lamme (2004) distinguished attention from awareness, and access awareness from phenomenal awareness. Lamme (2004) explained that attention does not guarantee that the stimulus reaches a conscious state and that it is stored in a stable and satisfactory manner (working memory). In sum, without attention, a stimulus cannot be reported and identified. It is then elucidated that people do have awareness of what is happening but without attention, these stimuli cannot be stored in a more stable niche in the brain. In turn, this will not allow people to retrieve it in future time or to make comparisons for upcoming stimuli (Lamme, 2004).Hence, attention is needed to store items in the working memory that survived change and inattentional blindness.
Lamme (2004) also explained that this has the same concept as the Block, that in the area of sensory memory, similar differences were made between a retinotopic and non-retinotopic form, the former also being referred to as iconic memory or a fleeting form of memory while the later, also known as the working memory, is more stable. Based on this view of Block, attentional selection is essentially not affected by either memory or awareness, but determines whether one goes from iconic to working memory or from phenomenal to access memory.
The third neural activity, which links the relationship between attention and awareness is the phenomenal overflow and the neural purity. From the study of Kouider, de Gardelle, Sackur, and Dupoux (2010), it is suggested that the overflow argument is entrenched in the perception that a person is aware of what they could describe and manipulate. For example, when someone observes a large amount of a complicated visual scene, the person feels that they have a rich visual experience about it, although they can only tell some parts of it. On the other hand, neural purity argument is deep-seated to the assumption that certain neural mechanisms happen because of phenomenal experience (Kouider et al., 2010). As cited by Block and Lamme from the study of Kouider et al. (2010), they said that in models where the participants cannot identify the existence of the stimulus because of inattention like attentional blink, inattentional blindness, and change blindness, the participants may become aware of the stimulus due to the way it triggers the local recurrence in regions of the perceptual brain (Kouider et al., 2010). The neural purity argument warns that the reports should not be easily believed since the person can be conscious of the stimulus but still deny it anytime (Kouider et al., 2010).
In the study by Kouider et al., (2010),it was emphasized how access awareness and phenomenal awareness differ in their function in the human brain. Partial awareness and perceptual illusions are important concepts in the paper of Kouider. When a complicated stimulus is changed due to brief masked or peripheral, the person cannot tell its whole content but they have experienced everything from that stimulus (Kouider et al., 2010). This is called cognitive o perceptual illusion, which means that someone has seen the whole picture but finds it hard to recall some parts of it. However, they remember it once they connect it to the outside world. On one hand, partial awareness happens when the person accesses the stimulus but only some of its representational levels (Kouider et al., 2010). The information in other levels cannot be accessed unless there is a conceivable understanding of the content. For instance, a person may have seen the word ‘gener’ but associated it to ‘green’ to understand it. This assumption only happens when a person knows that there is a color word which is ‘green’ and detects the letters to form the word.
The conclusion given by the Kouider et al. (2010) is that phenomenology runs over access awareness and that awareness overflows attention. In this view, awareness without access is equal to awareness without attention. Although it still not fully proven that awareness maybe independent from attention, a topic that still sparks controversy, it is still difficult to demonstrate awareness without attention. The study was based on two evidences: (1) they demonstrated that under dual-task activity, which they called the near absence of attention, although the person is performing a main task in their current location, they can still recognize a certain stimulus in their periphery; and (2) they depend on situations where attention and awareness both are working separately (Kouider et al., 2010).
Attention and awareness form a strong bond in storing and retrieving information from the perceived stimulus of a person. Attention plays a very critical role in identifying stimuli that has been stored in one’s brain. Attention will also aid in identifying subjects, which were altered by change, blink and inattentional blindness, making the person focus on the changes and single out the stimulus from the rest. Being merely aware of what is happening will not be possible unless one’s attention will direct its iconic and working memory. If a person will give their full attention to a stimulus, then phenomenal and access awareness will follow suit, allowing the person to retell or report the stimulus he has experienced. Retrieving from either phenomenal and access awareness will determine the type of description the person will relate.
Attention in psychology. (2015). Retrieved from
Awareness. (2015). Retrieved from
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Gaal, S. & Fahrenfort, J. (2008). Relationship of visual awareness, attention and report.
Gitelman, D. (2003). Attention and its disorders: Imaging in clinical neuroscience.
British Medical Bulletin, 65(1), 21-34.
Kouider, S., de Gardelle, V., Sackur, J. & Dupoux, E. (2010). How rich is consciousness? Partial
awareness hypothesis. Trends in Cognitive Science, 14(7), 301-307.
Lamme, A. (2004). Separate neural definitions of visual consciousness and visual attention: A
Mole, C., Declan, S. & Wu, W. (2011). Attention: philosophical and psychological essays.
UK: Oxford University Press.
Singer, W. (2015). Phenomenal awareness and consciousness from a neurobiological
perspective. NeuroQuantology, 4(2). doi: 10.14704/nq.2006.4.2.94
Vandenbroucke, A. R. E., Fahrenfort, J. J., Sligte, I. G. & Lamme, V. A. F. (2014). Seeing
without knowing: Neural signatures of perceptual inference in the absence of report.
Wyart, V. & Tallon-Baudry. (2008). Neural dissociation between visual awareness and spatial
attention. Journal of Neuroscience, 28(10), 2667-2679.
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