San Diego State University Psychology Essay

Reading response to the article “Attention and the Detection of Signals,” Michael I. Posner, Charles R. R. Snyder, and Brian J. Davidson University of Oregon SUMMARY Detection of a visual signal requires information to reach a system capable of eliciting arbitrary responses required by the experimenter.

Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
1980, Vol. 109, No. 2, 160-174
Attention and the Detection of Signals
Michael I. Posner, Charles R. R. Snyder, and Brian J. Davidson
University of Oregon
Detection of a visual signal requires information to reach a system capable of
eliciting arbitrary responses required by the experimenter. Detection latencies are
reduced when subjects receive a cue that indicates where in the visual field the
signal will occur. This shift in efficiency appears to be due to an alignment (orienting) of the central attentional system with the pathways to be activated by the
visual input.
It would also be possible to describe these results as being due to a reduced
criterion at the expected target position. However, this description ignores important constraints about the way in which expectancy improves performance. First,
when subjects are cued on each trial, they show stronger expectancy effects than
when a probable position is held constant for a block, indicating the active nature
of the expectancy. Second, while information on spatial position improves performance, information on the form of the stimulus does not. Third, expectancy
may lead to improvements in latency without a reduction in accuracy. Fourth,
there appears to be little ability to lower the criterion at two positions that are
not spatially contiguous.
A framework involving the employment of a limited-capacity attentional mechanism seems to capture these constraints better than the more general language of
criterion setting. Using this framework, we find that attention shifts are not closely
related to the saccadic eye movement system. For luminance detection the retina
appears to be equipotential with respect to attention shifts, since costs to unexpected stimuli are similar whether foveal or peripheral. These results appear to
provide an important model system for the study of the relationship between attention and the structure of the visual system.
Detecting the presence of a clear signal
in an otherwise noise-free environment is
probably the simplest perceptual act of which
the human is capable. For this reason it may
serve as an ideal model task for investigating
the role of sensory and attentional factors in
controlling our awareness of environmental
events. Although there are a number of empirical approaches to the study of detection,
most have not clearly separated between attentional factors and sensory factors and are
thus incapable of providing an analysis of the
relationship between the two.
The classical psychophysical approach to
the use of
University of Oregon. Portions of the data were near-threshold signals (e.g., Hecht, Schlaer,
adapted from Chronometrk Explorations of Mind & Pirenne, 1942). This approach has been
(Posner, 1978). Parts of these experiments were concerned with such stimulus factors as inrdllV116 Psychonomk Society> November tensity, duration, wavelength, and sensory
Reqests for reprints should be sent to Michael I. organismic factors such as the degree of dark
Posner, Psychology Department, University of Ore- adaptation, retinal position of the stimulus,
gon, Eugene, Oregon 97403.
and so on. Evidence that a signal has been
Copyright 1980 by the American Psychological Association, Inc. 0096-3445/80/0902-0160$00.75
detected usually involves verbal reports by
the subjects as an indication that they are
aware of the event. An effort is made to optimize the state of attention, and it is assumed
that the organism has its attention aligned to
the input channel over which the event occurs.
A different approach to signal detection is
represented by a body of research using the
components of the orienting reflex rather
than verbal reports as an indicant of detection. Research on the orienting reflex is
concerned with both stimulus and contextual
factors controlling its elicitation. Sokolov
(1963) has suggested that subjects build up a
neural model (i.e., an expectancy) of the repeated signal that blocks elicitation of the
reflex by stimuli resembling the model. Little
is known about whether the reflex is prior
to or only follows our awareness of the signal. Indeed, the relatively slow times of some
components of the orienting reflex, such as
vasodilation and galvanic skin response
(GSR), may prevent precise specification of
the temporal relation of the orienting reflex
to awareness of the signal. Some components
of the orienting reflex, such as alignment of
the eyes, may well precede our awareness of
the signal, whereas other components of the
orienting reflex, such as changes in GSR and
vasoconstriction, almost surely must follow it.
The theory of signal detection (Green &
Swets, 1974) has greatly influenced studies
of detecting stimuli. One needs to distinguish
between the mathematical theory and its
psychological application. The mathematical
theory of signal detection is a powerful tool
for the analysis of many problems. It is a
normative theory that may be used to describe a large number of psychological situations. However, like many tools it often produces in its users some implicit assumptions.
The use of detection has involved situations
all the way from separating a pure tone in
white noise (Green & Swets, 1974) to the
task of a radiologist locating a tumor (Green
& Birdsall, 1978). It seems unlikely that the
same processes are involved in these situations. Often, in addition to detecting the
presence of a stimulus, a person must identify
it in order to discriminate it from complex
backgrounds. Accordingly, sometimes it has
been concluded that attention aids detection
more than would be expected from an ideal
observer (Sekuler & Ball, 1977), and sometimes no effects of attention are found (Lappin & Uttal, 1976). The one task in which
signal detection theory is not applied is where
there is a clear above-threshold signal in uncluttered background. Since the signal would
be detected 100% of the time, the method
does not apply. Yet in many ways this is the
perfect task for understanding the roles of
orienting and detecting in their simplest
Users of signal detection theory often assume a two-stage model of information processing in which sensory systems are coupled
in series to a central statistical decision process. This view runs counter to studies that
have forced the distinction between physical,
phonetic, and semantic codes of letters and
words (LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Posner,
1978). In systems involving multiple codes,
changes induced in the criterion within one
code can affect the inflow of evidence to other
Another approach to the detection of signals has been developing in the last several
years. It applies the methods of mental chronometry (Posner, 1978) through the use of
evoked potentials, poststimulus latency histograms of single cells, or reaction time to try
to determine when and where central attentional states influence the input message
produced by a signal. It has been shown, for
example, that independent of eye position,
the instruction to attend to a particular position in visual space affects occipital recording
for that event in comparison to a control
stimulus arising at another position within
the first ISO msec after input (Eason, Harter,
& White, 1969; Von Voorhis & Hillyard,
1977). Similarly, enhancement of single cells
whose receptive field is the target of an eye
movement occurs well within 100 msec after
input (Goldberg & Wurtz, 1972; Wurtz &
Mohler, 1976). These enhancements are
not necessarily coupled to the eye movement
but are unique to the stimulus toward which
the eye will be moved. All these studies show
evidence of interaction of central systems
with input processing. They suggest that cen- contiguous portions of the visual field. Fitral control modifies the stimulus evidence nally, this attentional mechanism appears not
rather than merely providing a criterion for to be closely coupled to the structure of the
choices among fixed states of evidence. These saccadic eye movement system nor to difchronometric studies suggest that it may be fer between fovea and periphery.
possible to study the detailed processes involved in the detection of a suprathreshold
Knowledge of Spatial Position Affects
signal even in an empty visual field.
By detection, we will mean the entry of inEvoked potential and single-cell results
formation concerning the presence of a sigshow that when a signal occurs at a position
nal into a system that allows the subject to
for which the subject is prepared, electrical
report the existence of the signal by an ar- activity is enhanced in the first 100 msec
bitrary response indicated by the experifollowing input. This result suggests that it
menter. We mean to distinguish detection in
should be possible to observe this enhancethis sense from more limited automatic rement in terms of changes in detection. There
sponses that may occur to the event. Orientis much evidence that knowledge of where a
ing, as we will use the term, involves the
stimulus will occur affects processing efficimore limited process of aligning sensory
ency in a complex visual field (Engle, 1971) ;
(e.g., eyes) or central systems with the inSperling & Melchner, 1978). However,
put channel over which the signal is to occur.
there has been a great deal of dispute about
Thus it is possible to entertain the hypothesis
this fact when above-threshold signals have
that subjects may orient toward a signal been used in an empty field. Posner, Nissen,
without having first detected it. This would
and Ogden (1978) provided subjects with a
mean simply that the signal was capable of precue as to whether a given event would
eliciting certain kinds of responses (e.g., occur to the left or right of fixation. One seceye movements or shifts of attention) but has
ond following the cue, a .5° square was
not yet reached systems capable of generating
plotted on the cathode ray tube. As shown
responses not habitual for that type of signal. in Figure 1, when the stimulus occurred at
The purpose of this article is to examine the expected position (.8 probability), subthe relationship of the two component pro- jects’ detection (simple reaction time) recesses, orienting and detecting, in the task sponses were faster than following the neuof reporting the presence of a visual signal. tral cue (.5 probability each side) and when
In the course of the article, we will try to the stimulus occurred at an unexpected posishow that central processes can seriously af- tion (.2 probability), they were slower. Carefect the efficiency with which we detect stim- ful monitoring of eye position and the use of
uli in even the most simple of detection tasks a single response key insure that neither
and that the nature of these changes in ef- changes in eye position nor differential prepficiency is such that it implies a separate at- aration of responses could be responsible for
tentional system in close interaction with the such a result.1
visual system. The article is structured in
In addition to the data reported above,
terms of four propositions. First, knowledge
of the location of a clear visual signal can be
After having found that movements of the eyes
shown to affect the efficiency of processing
than one degree occurred on less than 4%
signals that arise from that location. Second,
of the trials (Posner et al., 1978) and that these
this improved efficiency is not due to a gen- trials did not in any way change the cost-benefit
eral tendency for any kind of information to results of the study, we did not maintain careful
improve performance nor to an improvement monitoring of eye position in all subsequent studin speed at the expense of accuracy, but im- ies, although we used the same instructions and
to suppress movements. When monitoring
plies a centrally controlled attentional system. training
was instituted in some of the later studies, results
Third, the attentional system cannot be al- were not substantially altered by the eye movements
located freely but can be directed only over that were detected.
some other performance experiments have
also shown improvement in performance at
expected spatial positions. These experiments
include the use of signal detection measures
(rf’; Smith & Blaha, Note 1), vocal reaction
time (Eriksen & Hoffman, 1973), and percent correct identifications (Shaw & Shaw,
Nonetheless, it has been difficult in many
experiments to obtain significant benefits
from knowledge of spatial position (Grindley
& Townsend, 1968; Mertens, 1956; Mowrer,
1941; Shiffrin & Gardner, 1972). There may
be many reasons why some studies have been
successful in showing improved performance
from expected spatial positions and others
not. One of the reasons that seemed most
likely to us was that most experiments, other
than ours, examined only the benefits involved when subjects knew something about
the location of a visual object when compared
to a condition where no such knowledge was
present. Our design showed about equal costs
and benefits. However, in our design, subjects received a cue on each trial indicating
the most likely position of the target, whereas
in most studies subjects prepared for an expected position for a block of trials. We found
that it was difficult for subjects to maintain
a differential preparation for a particular location and suspected that many of the studies
examining benefits due to knowledge of
visual location did not find .them because the
subjects did not continue to set themselves
for the position in space at which the signal
was most expected. To test this view, we
compared our standard cuing condition with
a method in which noncued blocks were used.
Experiment 1
Subjects. Six volunteers were recruited through
the subject pool of the Center for Cognitive and
Perceptual Research at the University of Oregon.
All were college age and possessed normal hearing and vision. The subjects were run individually
in two 1-hour sessions on consecutive days and
were paid $2 for each session.
Apparatus. All testing was conducted in an
acoustical chamber. Subjects were seated approximately 1.3 m in front of a cathode-ray tube (CRT)
on which fixation markers, warning signals, and
Figure 1. Reaction time (RT) to expected, unexpected, and neutral signals that. occur 7° to the
left or right of fixation. (Benefits are calculated
by subtracting expected RTs from neutral, and
costs by subtracting neutral from unexpected.)
feedback occurred. The displays were viewed binocularly. Four red light-emitting diodes (LEDs)
were arrayed horizontally immediately below the
CRT. Two LEDs were positioned 24° left and
right of fixation (far stimuli). The other two stimuli were 8° to either side of fixation (near stimuli).
The LEDs were driven by 15 V through either
a S600 or a l.SJ) resistor, producing two suprathreshold intensities. Subjects indicated their responses by pressing a key-operated microswitch
with the right index finger. A PDP-9 computer
controlled the timing, stimulus presentation, and
Procedure. The experimental task was a simple
reaction time (RT) to the onset of an LED. Trial
blocks consisted of 120 trials, including 20 catch
trials. Stimulus trials consisted of a visual warning signal, a stimulus (LED), subject’s response,
feedback, and an intertrial interval (ITI). Subjects were asked to fixate the center of the CRT
where a 1″ square was displayed. Warning signals, either a plus sign (+) or a digit from 1 to
4, indicating one of the stimulus locations from
left to right, were presented in the square. Following a warning interval of 1 sec, the stimulus was
presented. Subjects were encouraged to respond
quickly, but not so quickly that they anticipated the
stimulus. The response terminated the warning
signal and stimulus display. Feedback was the RT
in milliseconds unless an anticipation had occurred,
in which case the word ERROR was presented. TO re-

that costs and benefits were not dependent on
changes in eye position (Posner et al., 1978).
Design. Each subject was tested in the three
conditions (equal, unequal, and cued) on 2 days in
an ABC-CBA order, with order balanced across
subjects. There were two blocks in the equal condition, four blocks in the unequal condition (one
for each position most likely), and two blocks in
the cued condition on each day. Each session for
each subject contained a different random order of
the four blocks within the unequal condition.
Results and Discussion
C 280
240 –
Figure 2. Reaction times (RT) for events of varying probability. (79% = expected, 25% = neutral,
and 7% = unexpected for blocked presentation and
presentation where cues are presented on each
duce anticipatory responses, no stimulus occurred
on approximately 20 trials per block. These catch
trials consisted of only a warning signal and an
ITI. The proportion of catch trials was constant
across experimental conditions.
The central objective was to compare detection
latencies when the stimulus location was cued on
each trial (mixed blocks) to a noncued situation
in which subjects prepared for one location for a
block of trials (pure blocks). Two conditions were
used in the pure blocks. In the equal condition, the
warning signal was always a plus sign, and each
of the four locations was equally probable. In the
unequal condition the warning signal was also a
plus sign, but during each trial block one location
was presented 79% of the time, and the other three
locations occurred 7% of the time each. At the beginning of each unequal block, subjects were informed of the most likely stimulus location. In the
mixed blocks (i.e., the cued condition), 20% of
the warning signals were plus signs, indicating that
the four locations were equally probable for that
trial. On the remaining 80% of the trials, the warning signal was a digit (1, 2, 3, or 4), indicating the
most probable location (79%) for that trial. Each
of the non-cued locations was equally probable
(7%). In both the unequal and cued conditions
subjects were encouraged to set themselves for
the expected stimulus but not to move their eyes
from the warning cue. No actual monitoring of eye
position was used, since previous work had shown
The results of these mixed and pure blocks
are shown in Figure 2. Note that once again
when the cuing technique was used, we obtained very significant costs and benefits over
a neutral condition. However, in the pure
block technique, only the costs were significantly different from the neutral condition.
There was no evidence of benefit.2
We attribute this failure to find benefit in
the expected position over the neutral condition to the tendency of subjects to avoid the
task of placing their attention at the expected
position when they were not cued to do so
on each trial. It is not clear why benefits are
more labile than costs. However, since both
costs and benefits are aspects of our knowledge of the position of an expected signal, it
is clear that the difference between the benefit trials and the cost trials is a legitimate way
of asking whether expectancy changes the
efficiency of performance of signals arriving
from expected versus unexpected conditions.
The failure of most other paradigms to examine the cost of unexpected positions in
space makes them far less sensitive than the
techniques we have outlined. This, together
with the general use of blocking rather than
cuing, helps to reconcile several of the conflicts in the literature.
Experiment 2: Attention Is Involved
Investigators using the signal detection
theory to guide work on detecting signals
often argue that any information provided to
This experiment was subsequently replicated
with 12 additional subjects in the same design, except that the LEDs were 2° and 8° from fixation.
The results were identical.
the subject about a signal will be useful in
disentangling the signal from background
noise. For this reason, evidence that some
particular type of information, for example,
about the location of a signal, improves performance is not taken to mean that there is
any special mechanism associated with the
utilization of that information. Lappin and
Uttal (1976) have argued that knowledge of
any orthogonal stimulus parameter ought to
improve detection of that stimulus (p. 368).
In their experiments they use a high level of
background noise and ask the subjects to detect a line within the noise. Detection involves a difficult discrimination between
background and signal. They find that the
subject’s information about the location of
the line does improve performance, but not
more than would be expected from a model
in which no attentional assumptions are used.
From this they conclude that the demonstrations of costs and benefits of the type indicated above are not evidence in favor of
specific attentional mechanisms.
According to our view, evidence that only
some types of information serve to improve
performance would indicate that our effects
are not due to general knowledge serving to
allow separation of signal from noise. For example, consider a comparison of providing
subjects with information about the shape of
a stimulus with providing information about
the location of the stimulus. It seems clear
that in the Lappin and Uttal experiment,
knowledge of the target shape would affect
performance. This fits with the notion that
information about the target’s shape serves
to disentangle the signal from noise. On the
other hand, in our experiment it seems somewhat unlikely that information about shape
would improve detection of signals.
Subjects. Twelve volunteers were recruited in
the same manner as in Experiment 1. The subjects were paid $2 for each of three 1-hour sessions
run on consecutive days. Each session consisted of
eight blocks of 130 trials.
Stimuli. Warning signals, stimuli, and feedback
were presented on the CRT. Warning signals occurred at the center of the CRT. The stimulus,
one of 10 capital letters selected at random, was
presented 7° to the left or right of the warning
Procedure. The experimental task was a simple
RT to the occurrence of a letter. Each trial began
with a warning signal indicating either the form
or location of the stimulus. The stimulus was presented after a variable warning interval that ranged
between 800 and 1200 msec, Subjects were encouraged to respond quickly but not to anticipate
the stimulus. About 25% of the trials were catch
trials in which no letter was presented. As in Experiment 1, catch trial rates were constant across
conditions. Feedback consisted of the RT in milliseconds, or the word ERROR if an anticipation had
The primary objective was to compare the effectiveness of location and form cues on simple
detection. Location cues were left or right arrows.
Following a location cue, the stimulus occurred on
the indicated side on 80% of the trials. The neutral location cue was a plus sign. Following this
cue, each location was equally probable. The form
cue was one of the letters that were used as stimuli. On 80% of the trials following this cue, the
stimulus was the indicated letter. The form cue
always occurred with either a neutral or an informative location cue. Half of the form cues were
presented slightly below a plus sign. This warning signal indicated that the cued letter was the
most probable stimulus but did not indicate its
location (i.e., each location was equally probable).
On the remaining trials the form cue occurred below the left or right arrow, informing subjects of
both the form and location of the stimulus. Since
the location and form cues were each valid on 80%
of the trials, the combined form and location cue
was valid on 64% of the trials. On 16% of the trials,
the cued letter occurred in the unexpected location.
On 16% of the trials, an unexpected letter occurred
in the cued location. Finally, on 4% of the trials,
an unexpected letter occurred in the unexpected location. Each type of warning signal (plus sign
alone, arrow alone, letter with plus sign, letter with
arrow) occurred equally often. Subjects were encouraged to use the warning signals to prepare for
the stimulus but not to move their eyes from the
warning cue.
Results and Discussion
The results of this experiment are shown
in Table 1. Clearly, information about the location of the letter improves performance,
but information about the form does not.3
It should be noted that the prime reduced the
letter uncertainty from 10 alternatives, whereas
the spatial uncertainty had only 2 alternatives. It
seems unlikely that a different result would have
obtained had only 2 letters been used, however.
Table 1
Mean Reaction Time for Expected,
Unexpected, and Neutral Form and
Location Cues
Expected Neutral Unexpected M
Note. Time is measured in milliseconds.
Another form of objection to our studies
is to suppose that changes in the latency of
processing the stimulus arising at the expected location are a result of changes in
the amount of information that the subjects
sampled from the expected location. Consider
a comparison of the neutral trials with the
trials cued by an arrow. In the latter, subjects may decide to reduce their criterion for
pressing the key at the risk of making an increased number of anticipations. Indeed, we
generally find that conditions involving the
arrow do show an increased number of anticipatory responses over those times when
the plus sign is used. This is evidence of a
shift in amount of evidence that the subjects
require to respond. However, this kind of
shift cannot account for differences in cost
plus benefit, since both of these RTs are from
the arrow conditions, and subjects cannot
differentially prepare prior to making the response. One might suppose that in some way
the subjects are able to reduce their criterion
when the stimulus arises from the particular
position in space that was cued. It is possible
to test whether improvement in reaction time
obtained from knowledge of the location of
the stimulus is accompanied by an increase
in error. To do this we used a choice reaction
time task.
Experiment 3
We modified our standard simple reaction
time method (Posner et al., 1978) by providing the subjects with a toggle switch that
moved up or down. The cues were left or
right arrows or a plus sign. The imperative
stimulus was a .5° square of light that occurred 7° from fixation and either below or
above the line on the scope indicated by the
cue stimulus. If it occurred above, the subject
was required to move the toggle switch up,
and if below, the toggle switch was to be
moved down. This was a highly compatible
stimulus-response combination that did not
require a great deal of learning by the subject. Eight subjects were run for five blocks
of 96 trials on each of the 2 days.
The results for Day 2 are shown in Figure 3. It is clear that we did find costs and
benefits in reaction time in the same direction but not in as great a magnitude as had
been found in the simple reaction time detection experiments. Analysis of variance indicated that both costs and benefits are significant.* There clearly is no significant difference in the error rates. Error rates on cost
trials are somewhat larger than error rates in
neutral or benefit trials. There is no evidence
that the reaction time results are produced
by an opposite effect on errors. A speedaccuracy tradeoff is not a necessary factor
in producing the costs and benefits found in
our experiment.
Experiment 4
It seemed important to determine the relationship of our results using luminance
detection to those obtained when subjects are
required to identify a target. In Experiment
2 it was shown that a subject’s knowledge
about the form of the target did not influence
luminance detection. These findings suggest
that luminance detection may be a simpler
domain in which to examine the effects of
set on performance than the more frequently
studied tasks in which it is important to identify or match forms.
There is also an interaction apparent in the
graph between the target location (up vs. down)
and position uncertainty. This probably results
from a tendency to associate an unexpected position with a downward response. Presumably there
is also a tendency to associate an expected position
with an upward response. Despite this complication, the main result of the experiment is to show
highly significant effects of knowledge of spatial
position for both choice responses.
To examine this question we displayed
four boxes arrayed around a central fixation
point. The maximum visual angle of the display was about 1.5° so that all stimuli were
foveal. Subjects saw either a neutral warning cue or an arrow pointing to one of the
four positions. Following the neutral cue, a
stimulus was equally likely to appear at any
of the four positions and following an arrow
the target appeared at the cued position 79%
of the time and at the other positions 7% of
the time. The stimulus could be the digits
4 or 7 or the letters D or Q. The subjects’
task was to respond to designated target
In pilot research we provided subjects
with only a single key that they were to
press whenever a digit was presented. If a
letter was presented, they were to refrain
from pressing a key. In this paradigm RTs
to the expected position were very fast, but
error rates were always much higher than in
unexpected or neutral trials. Subjects found
it very difficult to withhold responding when
a nontarget occurred in the expected position. This result indicates that there is a
strong tendency to react with a false alarm
to a visual event occurring in an expected
position. Subjectively, it felt as if one were
all set to respond when an event ocurred in
the indicated position, and it was very frustrating to inhibit the response while waiting
to determine if it was a digit (target). When
an event occurred in an unexpected position,
it felt as though the answer was already present by the time one was ready to make a response. These subjective impressions fit very
well with the idea that the attentional system
is responsible for releasing the response
rather than for the accrual of information
relevant to the decision that a target was
It was relatively easy to show that costs
and benefits were not due entirely to rapid
but inaccurate responses. We simply provided subjects with a second key so that on
each trial they were required to decide
whether the target was a letter or digit. Figure 4 indicates the results from 14 subjects
run in such a study for 2 days. Half the subjects were presented with a brief target
400 –

• UP
Figure 3. Reaction times (RT) for expected
neutral (50%), and unexpected (20%) stimulus locations. (The task is to determine if the stimulus
is above [up response] or below [down response]
the center line. Error rates are in parentheses.)
masked after 40 msec (short duration) and
half with a target remaining present until
the response. For reaction time there are
clear costs when the stimulus occurs in the
unexpected position and benefits when it occurs in the expected position in comparison
with the neutral control. On the other hand,
error rates are constant over the various
positions. These results argue clearly that
subjects did not simply sacrifice accuracy
for speed when the stimulus occurred in the
expected location. This finding is incompatible with the view that central decision processes are responsible for setting a criterion
for the response, since that implies that
more rapid responding will be associated
with increased error.
The results of the pilot study and of Experiment 4 also indicate to us that there are
quite different processes present when subjects are required merely to detect a luminance change from those present when they
must identify the stimulus. The false alarms
found in the pilot study were far greater than
were found in any study involving the detec-
Figure 4. Reaction times (RT) for expected (79%),
neutral (25%), and unexpected (7%) positions.
(The task requires separate responses for letters
and digits. Short duration = 40 msec masked presentation. Long duration = stimulus present until response is made. Error rates are in parentheses.)
tion of a stimulus. It is as though the occurrence of a luminance change at the expected
position gives rise to detection of an event.
It is the speed of this detection that we have
been measuring in our previous work. If the
subject is given only one key, there is a very
strong bias to use the act of detecting the
event as the basis for pressing the key. If the
key press is to be made to only one class of
stimuli, it is difficult to withhold the response.
On the other hand, if subjects have to make
a choice between keys, they are able to inhibit rapid responses and still obtain benefits
from the cue.
These results all suggest that luminance
detection is facilitated when subjects know
where in space a stimulus will occur. They
also indicate that such facilitation is not due
to a bias introduced by the tendency to respond quickly and inaccurately to stimuli occurring at the expected position. On the
other hand, they also suggest that the results
of luminance detection cannot necessarily be
generalized to studies in which subjects are
required to identify the form present at a
particular position. Although attention is
quickly available at the expected position,
this may result either in quick but errorprone reactions or in improved speed without
increases in error, depending upon how the
task is structured.
Although we have not done any formal
comparisons, it seems obvious that the size
of the effects in the choice RT tasks are much
smaller than we have typically obtained in
simple RT. This may seem counterintuitive,
since the actual RTs are much greater in the
choice tasks. We believe that this is due to
the necessity of the subject’s switching attention from the spatial location indicated by
the cue to the internal lookup processes that
identify (e.g., digit) or determine (e.g.,
above) the discriminative responses. Spatial
cues are very effective for simple RT to luminance increments because this task does
not require determining what the event is before responding, since subjects are required
to respond to any event. Whether a spatial
cue is effective in a more complex task will
depend upon the details of the task and the
competing stimuli. Spatial cues will be of
great help in complex cluttered fields because
they tell the subjects which stimuli are to be
dealt with; in an empty field they may or
may not help, depending upon the difficulty
of reorienting from the location to the internal lookup of item identity.
Another perspective on our results from
the point of view of signal detection theory
is to suppose that they depend upon the reciprocal nature of the stimulus conditions
that we impose upon the subjects (Duncan,
1980). If subjects follow the correlations in
the experiment, they may seek to raise their
criterion at the unexpected position and
lower it at the expected position. This might
have nothing to do with capacity or attentional limitations but would simply be an
adaptation to the experimental contingencies.
This view is more difficult to deal with. It is
possible to design a study without introducing a contingency by, for example, presenting a stimulus that occurs with equal
likelihood to the left, right, or both positions.
However, such an experiment is probably
not sufficient to dispose of the more general
idea that performance in these tasks is mediated by independent shifts in criterion at different positions in space and not by the allocation of any central mechanism. It is to
this question that the next section of the
article is addressed.
Attention Cannot Be Allocated at Will
Recently, Shaw and Shaw (1977) have
proposed that subjects can allocate their attention pretty much at will over the visual
field. Shaw and Shaw presented letters at
one of eight positions in a circular array. In
one condition, the positions varied in the
probability with which a target would occur.
Performance was compared with a condition
in which targets occurred at all eight positions with equal likelihood. Subjects showed
significant costs and benefits in detection
according to the assigned probabilities. From
this, Shaw and Shaw argued for a model in
which subjects were able to allocate a limitedcapacity attentional resource to different
areas of the visual field. While their results
are consistent with allocation of a limitedcapacity mechanism, they would also be consistent with the sort of view discussed in the
last paragraph. It could be that subjects are
able to set criteria for different positions in
the visual field according to the probability
that those positions will be sampled. However, there is a serious problem with this interpretation. The results of Shaw and Shaw
could also be obtained if subjects sometimes
attend to one position in space and sometimes to another, and these probabilities
match those assigned to target presentation.
Our goal was to determine whether subjects were able to allocate their attention to
different positions on a given trial. To do
this we gave subjects both a most frequent
position and a second most frequent position
on each trial. We examined their RTs to the
second most likely position in comparison to
lower frequency positions to see if they could
allocate attention simultaneously both to the
most frequent and the second most frequent
Experiment 5
Subjects. Twelve subjects participated in two
1-hour sessions on consecutive days. Experiment
5A involved 12 additional subjects and Experiment SB 7 subjects. All were paid for their participation.
Apparatus. The apparatus from Experiment 1,
including the LED displays, was used in this study.
The LEDs were positioned either 2° (foveal stimuli) or 8° (peripheral stimuli) from fixation, with
two LEDs on either side of fixation.
Procedure. The experimental task was a simple
RT to the onset of an LED. Trial blocks consisted of 100 trials, including catch trials. Subjects
fixated a 1° square in the center of the cathoderay tube. Warning signals, either a plus sign or a
digit from 1 to 4 indicating one of the stimulus locations from left to right, were presented in the
square. After a variable warning interval, the stimulus occurred. Approximately 25% of the trials
were catch trials in which no LED was presented.
The feedback consisted of the RT in milliseconds
or, in the event of an anticipation, the word ERROR.
On Day 1 subjects were seated in the test chamber and allowed to adapt to the dark for about 5
minutes before testing was begun. Prior to each
block a most likely (65%) and next most likely
(25%) stimulus location were indicated on the
cathode-ray tube. Subjects were asked to remember
these positions throughout the block and to try to
prepare for stimuli at these locations on those trials
(80%) when a digit appeared as the warning signal. The digit indicated the most likely position
during that block, with the stimulus positions numbered from 1 to 4 from left to right. On trials preceded by a plus sign as a warning signal (20%),
subjects were told that all four stimuli would be
equally likely to occur and were asked to prepare
themselves accordingly. Subjects were also informed that the first four blocks would be practice, and the final three blocks on Day 1, plus nine
blocks on Day 2, would be test blocks.
On Day 2, subjects were again shown the apparatus, task instructions were reviewed, and about
5 min. were allowed for dark adaptation. Following
testing, subjects were asked for their impressions of
the helpfulness of advance information concerning
stimulus location and whether they had felt they
could prepare for stimuli at two locations.
Experiment 5A was an exact replication of Experiment 5 except that blocks of trials in which one
signal had a probability of .64 and the other three
had probabilities of .12 were also included. In addition, Experiment 5A was run under light-adapted
conditions. Experiment SB was identical to 5A but
run under conditions of dark adaptation as in Experiment 5.
Design. Each subject received the same set of
four practice blocks, which sampled the four positions as most likely and as next most likely. Each
really quite clear-cut. When the second most
likely target position was adjacent to the
‘O Non-adjacent
most likely target position, its RT resembled
the most likely targets. There was a slight
(5 msec) nonsignificant advantage to the
most likely over the second most likely position in this condition. However, when the
second most likely was separated by a position from the most likely, its reaction time
resembled the least likely (5%) position.
This constellation of results was independent
whether the two most likely events oc260
curred at the central position or whether one
of them occurred at the periphery. These results suggest that for detection-, it is not possible for subjects to split their attentional
mechanism so that it is allocated to two sepa250
rated positions in space.
Experiment 5 did not contain a condition
in which there was only one likely event.
Thus we were unable to tell whether subjects
Figure 5. Reaction times (RT) to unexpected (5%), were reducing their efficiency in detecting the
second most likely (25%), and most likely (65%) most likely event. This condition was present
events as a function of the adjacency of the less in both Experiment 5A and SB. From Taprobable events to the most probable (65%) event. ble 2 it is clear that the requirement to give
attention to a second most likely event had
subject was then tested at all twelve combinations no effect on RT to the most likely event. In
of most likely and next most likely stimulus both experiments the blocks in which there
was and was not a secondary focus had the
The most likely position was cued on each trial
by the central digit while the next most likely posi- same detection RTs for the most likely event.
tion remained constant for three consecutive blocks,
In other ways Experiments 5A and SB are
with order of the four positions counterbalanced a replication of Experiment 5 except the
across subjects. Within each three-block set, order interaction between adjacency and probaof the most likely positions was also counterbility (5% vs. 25%) was not statistically sigbalanced.6
nificant. Overall, the 25% event is only 5
msec faster than the 5% event when they are
Resists and Discussion
both remote from the most likely event.
The data of all three experiments are given There is no evidence of an ability to divide
in Table 2. The statistical analysis of Experi- attention. When the events are adjacent to
ment 5 showed that both the most likely and the 65% event, the 25% event has a 16-msec
the second most likely target position were advantage. This advantage is statistically sigsignificantly faster in reaction time than the nificant in each study.
two least likely positions. In addition, foveal
events showed some advantage over peripheral events, and intense stimuli showed some
The use of a blocking rather than a cuing
advantage over weak stimuli.
technique for the second most likely event was made
However, the important result is a com- necessary by the difficulty we found in getting subparison of the reaction times to the second jects to process two target position cues on each
most likely position (25%) and least likely trial. Since the 25% target position (second most
likely) is compared in RT to the 5% target posiposition (5%) when the former was either tion, differences should reflect a sum of costs and
adjacent to or remote from the 65% position. benefits that do show up in the blocking method as
This is shown in Figure 5. The results are shown in Experiment 1.
Table 2
Splitting Attention: Reaction Time as a Function of Stimulus Event and Expectancy Condition.
One only
Most likely
25% adj.
5% adj.
25% non-adj. 5% non-adj.
Stimulus central (Positions 2-3)
Stimulus peripheral (Positions 1-4)
Note. Time is measured in milliseconds. Adj. = adjacent.
Overall our results suggest severe limits
in the ability of subjects to assign attention
to a secondary focus in addition to a primary focus. Clear evidence for such an ability
occurs only when the secondary focus is
adjacent to the primary focus.
This finding favors the view of a unified
attentional mechanism under the conditions
of this experiment. These conditions include
the use of a luminance detection task and the
blocking of the second most likely target
Attention and Visual System Structure
The results summarized so far argue that
subjects’ knowledge about where in space the
signal will occur does affect processing efficiency both in facilitating latencies at the expected position and retarding them at the
unexpected positions. Our results suggest an
attentional mechanism that cannot be allocated freely to positions in space but appears
to have a central focus that may vary in size
according to the requirements of the experiment. These findings are consonant with the
idea of attention as an internal eye or spotlight. The metaphor of attention as a kind of
spotlight has been used by Norman (1968),
among others.
It seems useful to summarize the relation-
ship between the attentional spotlight and
features of vision such as saccadic movements
and foveal versus peripheral acuity. Our results have shown that orienting is not dependent upon actually moving the eye. Moreover, the extent of benefit to a signal is not
affected by its distance from the fovea (Posner, 1978, Figure 7.9) from .5°-25° of visual
angle. This finding for detection differs markedly from one obtained by Engle (1971) for
a task demanding a high level of acuity.
Engle required subjects to find a single form
embedded in a complex visual field. He provided both a fixation point and a point away
from fixation where attention was to be concentrated. He found that the field of high
acuity (conspicuity) for the ability to identify the target stimulus included the fovea
but was elongated in the direction of the subject’s attention. This result contrasts sharply
with our results. In our detection experiments when subjects are told to attend away
from the fovea, the point of maximum speed
of reaction shifts to surround the area of attention and does not include any special
ability at the fovea itself. Costs of unexpected
foveal stimuli are quite comparable to those
with unexpected peripheral stimuli (Posner,
1978, Figure 7.9).
This equipotentiality of attention with respect to visual detection shows that the at-
tentional spotlight is not related to the field
of clear foveal vision. Moreover, taken with
Engle’s study it shows that attention cannot
compensate for structural deficiencies in acuity. Attending away from the fovea does not
compensate for the lack of acute vision in
that part of the retina, though it does produce a complete shift in the speed of detection
of luminance changes in that area of the
visual field.
Our results may seem paradoxical because
of the strong belief that attention is tied
closely to the fovea. In the real world, we are
always moving our eyes to stimuli that interest us, and thus we are habitually paying
attention to the stimuli to which we are looking. We found that this belief affected the
strategies our subjects employed when events
could be either foveal or peripheral in mixed
blocks (Posner, 1978, Figures 7.10 and
7.11). When subjects were cued as to which
side of the field was most likely, they uniformly prepared for the peripheral (7°)
stimulus and not the foveal (.5°) stimulus.
The costs and benefits for peripheral stimulus
in such mixed blocks were the same as when
only peripheral stimuli could occur (pure
blocks). The benefits for foveal events were
greatly reduced in blocks when they were
mixed with peripheral events. This shows
that subjects behave as though peripheral
events benefit from attention, whereas foveal
events do not require attention. This strategy
is quite wrong in our task, since both foveal
and peripheral events show equal costs and
benefits in pure blocks. Nonetheless, it is a
reasonable strategy to carry over from the
real world in which attention is closely associated with the fovea.
The conclusions from this series of experiments are of two kinds. The first kind is
somewhat general and concerns the theoretical framework most appropriate for the study
of detection. In the introduction we outlined
four alternative approaches based upon
whether a distinction is made between central
decision and sensory processes and, if it is,
whether the two are thought to be indepen-
dent and serial or interactive. Our experiments have shown clearly that the subject’s
knowledge about where in space a stimulus
will occur affects the efficiency of detection.
Moreover, the kind of effect one finds (costs
alone or costs and benefits) depends upon
whether a general set is maintained over
many trials or is precued on each trial. These
two results indicate that central factors influence the efficiency of detection. By themselves these results merely reinforce a point
made at the advent of signal detection theory
concerning the importance of taking central
factors into explicit consideration as a part of
understanding sensory processes.
How shall these central factors or cognitive factors be viewed ? The idea of separate
sensory and decision stages suggests an essentially noninteractive mode. Cognitive effects are seen to establish logical criteria for
the selection of sensory evidence. These selection criteria modify our reports about the
evidence but not the evidence itself. Our data
suggest an interactive framework, because
they show serious constraints upon the way
knowledge of a signal can aid detection. It
helps us to know where a signal will occur
but not the form in which it occurs. It helps
to know that a stimulus will occur in adjacent regions of space, but we cannot prepare efficiently for two separated regions.
Knowledge of where a stimulus will occur
produces benefits when it is used actively
(cued) but not when it is used to maintain
a general set (blocked). None of these results disprove the signal detection language
but all suggest constraints upon how our
knowledge affects processing that go beyond
a general improvement to be found by a logical selection criterion. Thus, our data seem to
lead one to view detection as an interaction
between the structure of the visual system
and the structure of the attentional system.
The second set of conclusions deals with
the structure of the attentional system implied by our experimental results. It is here
that our findings are more specific. Attention
can be likened to a spotlight that enhances
the efficiency of detection of events within its
beam. Unlike when acuity is involved, the ef-
feet of the beam is not related to the fovea. we have used it, but it also involves the opWhen the fovea is unilluminated by atten- eration that we call detecting. By detection
tion, its ability to lead to detection is dimin- we mean the contact between the attentional
ished, as would be the case with any other system and the input signal, such that arbiarea of the visual system. Subjects’ assump- trary response to it can be made.
In our experiments we provide the subtion that the fovea is closely coupled to attentional systems is a correlation they carry jects with cues that allow them to perform
over from everyday life. It is usually appro- the act of orienting. When this is done, depriate, because we move our eyes to those tection proceeds more quickly. In the real
things in which we are interested, but when world it is usual for a signal to produce both
this correlation is broken, the fovea has no orienting (covert and often overt) and detecspecial connection to attention. Nor are we tion. Since the efficiency of detection is afgood at dividing the attentional beam so as fected by orienting, orienting must either be
to simultaneously illuminate different corners in parallel or precede detecting. It might
of our visual space. This failure to find an seem paradoxical that orienting toward a
ability to divide attention contrasts sharply signal could precede or occur at the same time
with views arising from more complex tasks as detecting the signal. This paradox is simi(Moray, 1967; Shaw & Shaw, 1977) that lar to the problem of subception. How can we
stress attentional allocation. Perhaps the dif- orient to something that is as yet undetected ?
ference lies in the complex pathway-activa- The answer to both paradoxes lies in the
tion processes involved when linguistic stim- specific nature of the attentive system that
uli are to be identified before responding and underlies detection. Much of our information
in their use of more than one stimulus event. processing does not depend upon this system.
How is this attentional system brought to It is now well documented that complex
bear upon stimulus input? We distinguish semantic analysis can go on outside this sysbetween two different aspects of the atten- tem (Posner, 1978). Attention is important
tional system. The first we call orienting. for nonhabitual responses such as are implied
Orienting involves the direction in which at- by detection responses. Habitual responses
tention is pointed. Since the visual cortex is such as orienting the eyes to an event or
organized by spatial position, orienting can aligning attention to the stimulated pathway
be viewed as the selection of a position in do not appear to require support from this
space. However, orienting may also involve system.
Our experiments also suggest several dithe selection of a modality, and within modalities it may differ based upon the nature rections for the analysis of detection. If the
of the organization of information in that movement of attention can be time-locked to
sensory system (Posner, 1978). When input an input event, it should be possible to deterinvolves more than one modality, it is pos- mine (a) the latency with which attention
sible to compare orienting by modality with can be switched, (b) whether the time to
orienting by position in real space. When reach the target is a function of distance, and
this is done (Posner et al., 1978), modality (c) how such attention switches relate to the
space and to the moveinformation dominates over spatial position, articulation of visual
supporting the view that the sensory path- ment of the eyes. It is clear that the general
ways matter more than a reconstructed in- framework for viewing detection experiternal model of space. Orienting, as we have ments outlined in this article is quite condescribed it, may be an entirely central phenomenon without any overt change in eye
While this article has been in press much of the
position. Usually the eyes do follow the di- work outlined here has been accomplished. For a
rection of our attention, however. Orienting, discussion of movements of covert attention see
as we have described it, cannot be identified Shulman, Remington, and McLean (1979). A
broader treatment of the relationship between overt
with the orienting reflex. The orienting re- and covert attention movements may be found in
flex doubtless includes orienting in the sense Posner (1980).
sistent with the ideas developing from evoked
potential and single-cell work. A more detailed integration of the two approaches may
eventually enhance our knowledge of the
nature of attention.
Reference Note
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Ohio State University, 1969.
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Eason, R. G., Harter, R., & White, C. T. Effects
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Engle, F. L. Visual conspicuity, direction attention
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Goldberg, M. E., & Wurtz, R. H. Activity of superior colliculus in behaving monkeys : II. Effects
of attention on neuronal response. Journal of
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Green, D. M., & Birdsall, R. G. Detection and recognition. Psychological Review, 1978, 85, 192-206.
Green, D. M., & Swets, J. A. Signal detection
theory and psychophysics. Huntington, N.Y.:
Krieger, 1974.
Grindley, C. G., & Townsend, V. Voluntary attention in peripheral vision and its effects on
acuity and differential thresholds. Quarterly
Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1968, 20,
Hecht, S., Schlaer, S., & Pirenne, M. H. Energy,
quanta and vision. Journal of General Psychology,
1942, 25, 819-840.
LaBerge, D. S., & Samuels, J. Toward a theory
of automatic information processing in reading.
Cognitive Psychology, 1974, 6, 293-323.
Lappin, J. S., & Uttal, W. R. Does prior knowledge facilitate the detection of visual targets in
random noise? Perception &• Psychophysics, 1976,
20, 367-374.
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peripherally observable test flashes. Journal of
the Optical Society of America, 1956, 46, 10691070.
Moray, N. Where is attention limited? A survey
and a model. Ada Psychologica, 1967, 27, 84-92.
Mowrer, O. H. Preparatory set (expectancy) —
Further evidence of its central locus. Journal of
Experimental Psychology, 1941, 28, 116-133.
Norman, D. A. Toward a theory of memory and
attention. Psychological Review, 1968, 75, 522536.
Posner, M. I. Chronometric explorations of mind.
Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum 1978.
Posner, M. I. Orienting of attention. Quarterly
Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1980, 32,
Posner, M. I., Nissen, M. J., & Ogden, W. C.
Attended and unattended processing modes: The
role of set for spatial location. In H. L. Pick &
I. J. Saltzman (Eds.), Modes of perceiving and
processing information. Hillsdale, N.J.: Erlbaum,
Sekuler, R., & Ball, K. Mental set alters visibility
of moving targets. Science, 1977, 198, 60-62.
Shaw, M., & Shaw, P. Optimal allocation of cognitive resources to spatial location. Journal of
Experimental Psychology: Human Perception
and Performance, 1977, 3, 201-211.
Shiffrin, R. M., & Gardner, G. T. Visual processing
capacity and attentional control. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1972, 93, 72-82.
Shulman, G. L., Remington, R. W., & McLean,
J. P. Moving attention through space. Journal of
Experimental Psychology: Human Perception
and Performance, 1979, 5, 522-526.
Sokolov, E. N. Perception and the conditioned reflex. New York: Macmillan, 1963.
Sperling, G., & Melchner, M. J. Visual search,
visual attention and the attention operating characteristic. In J. Requin (Ed.), Attention and performance VII. New York: Academic Press, 1978.
Von Voorhis, S., & Hillyard, S. A. Visual evoked
potentials and selective attention to points in
space. Perception & Psychophysics, 1977, 22,
Wurtz, R. H., & Mohler, C W. Organization of
monkey superior colliculus: Enhanced visual response of superficial layer cells. Journal of Neurophysiology, 1976, 39, 745-765.
Received October 30, 1978 •
Reading Response #9: Ulrich (1981)
Jane M. Doe
Commented [PWL2]: A title like this isn’t that creative,
but it clearly identifies the assignment and the target
Commented [PWL3]: This should be your name, of
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee
Psych 623: Perceptual Processes
Dr. Peter W. Lenz
Smarch 31, 2020
Commented [PWL4]: Not a typo, just a wacky
reference to The Simpsons.
Reading Response #9: Ulrich (1981)
One often sees messaging and recommendations that nature scenes are good for one’s
Commented [PWL5]: FORMAT: The title of the paper
should appear in a Level 1 heading at the start of the
body of the paper.
Notice that the word “introduction” is NOT used.
mental health, while downplaying the idea that more urban types of scenes may also be healthpromoting. In 1981 Roger Ulrich engaged in research exploring this concept and found that
nature scenes do, indeed, appear to be better for one’s well-being than urban imagery.
Different cultures have a common notion that exposure to nature enhances mental health
(Ulrich, 1981). Previous studies have found evidence that physical contact with nature is
Commented [PWL6]: FORMAT: This is a level two
CONTENT: This summary is a little long. Work on being
succinct with your summary: hit the important elements
and move on to the critique: THAT is the more important
part of this assignment.
beneficial for those who reside in urban environments, and that contact with nature may lower
risks of developing certain pathologies (Stainbrook, 1968; Ulrich, 1981). In this article, the
researchers were attempting to expand this literature by evaluating this assumption specifically
for visual exposure by asking whether visual exposure to nature environments is more beneficial
in a psychophysiological sense than exposure to urban environments (Ulrich, 1981).
The researchers measured alpha amplitude to attempt to answer the underlying question.
Commented [PWL7]: CONTENT:
• If a research article: What specific question were the
researchers attempting to address?
• If a review of a topic or a body of research, what are
they reviewing and why?
Alpha amplitude was measured from an EEG because alpha waves are a valid measure of arousal
that correlate with consciousness and alertness (Shagass, 1972; Ulrich 1981). Considering a
decrease in alpha amplitude is related to feelings of anxiety, the researchers measured this in the
Commented [PWL8]: CONTENT:
• If a research article, what methodology did the
researchers use?
• If a review article, do the authors discuss the types of
research included?
subjects while they observed slides of either nature or urban environments. This study found that
alpha amplitudes were significantly higher when the subjects viewed nature than urban
environments. The researchers concluded that the subjects’ psychophysiological states did
change during the slide presentations as a function of the environment type, with urban
environments producing more feelings of anxiety to the subjects. The conclusions made by the
Commented [PWL9]: CONTENT: What were the most
important elements of the reading that addressed the
research question?
Commented [PWL10]: CONTENT: What conclusions
did the author draw based on these results?
researchers addressed the original question very clearly with consistent results to previous
I believe that the experiments were described very clearly and detailed. Diagrams were
presented that explained the exact course of action in each session, which was very helpful in
understanding how the experiments were conducted. Overall, the data supported the author’s
conclusions very strongly. However, the author should have included additional figures within
the result section. Having a figure to represent each finding would help the reader better visualize
the effect. The findings and conclusions were consistent with previous studies, and I believe that
Commented [PWL11]: CONTENT:
• If a research article: how well did the conclusions
address the original research question?
• If a review article, what conclusions did the author
come to as a result of their review?
Commented [PWL12]: CONTENT: This critique is
good, but perhaps a little brief.
Commented [PWL13]: CONTENT: How well were the
experiments described? Followed by statements
supporting this view.
Commented [PWL14]: CONTENT: How well did the
data/information collected support the author’s
Commented [PWL15]: CONTENT: This does not
address a specific question from the guidelines. Original
critiques and opinions should be included in this section.
this study expanded the line of research into the topic in a useful way, which can be further
expanded to other sensory modalities (Driver & Greene, 1977). It is expected that visual aids
were the key to examining visual effects on psychophysiological states, so the methods for this
study were appropriate for addressing the research question.
Commented [PWL16]: CONTENT: How appropriate
were the methods for answering this research question?
Another experiment that can add important information to this topic is to collect other
physiological measures in regards to looking at different environments. I believe that collecting
EOG data could provide some useful information on attention. I would speculate that subjects
Commented [PWL17]: CONTENT: What do you think
is the next most logical experiment based on the new
results of this paper? How would you design this
looking at urban environments would show more eye movement than when looking at nature
environments. This could potentially signify that attention states are shorter when looking at
urban environments, which would be consistent with the results from the previous study.
Further lines of inquiry could expand this research topic by exploring other sensory
modalities, for example hearing. This study focused on psychophysiological states based off
visual exposure to different environments. The author did explain that vision is the most
important sense for environmental perception; however, conducting research for hearing
Commented [PWL18]: CONTENT: What further lines
of research are suggested by these studies?
differing environments could help support the underlying question on whether exposure to nature
enhances overall psychophysiological well-being.
The article was well-written, and the researchers found evidence to support their
hypothesis that urban imagery had a deleterious effect upon the anxiety of viewers. While there
remain other areas to investigate on this topic, this particular research was well done and
contributes to the overall body of knowledge on the topic.
Driver, B. L. & Greene, P. (1977). Man’s nature: Innate determinants of response to natural
environments. In: Children, nature, and the urban environment: Proceedings of a
symposium-fair; USDA Forest Service Report NE-30. Northeastern Forest Experiment
Shagass, C. (1972). Electrical activity of the brain. In: N.S. Greenfield and R.A. Sternbach (eds.)
Handbook of psychophysiology. Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.
Stainbrook, E. (1968). Human needs and the natural environment. In: Man and nature in the city:
Symposium sponsored by the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife. U.S. Department of
the Interior.
Ulrich, R. (1981). Natural versus urban scenes: Some psychophysiological effects. Environment
and Behavior, 13(5), 523-556.
Commented [PWL19]: FORMAT: The References page
starts on a new page, with a level 1 header at the top.
APA-style references use a hanging indent.
APA style references follow specific formatting rules.
Activity 1 Tricks & Tips
Lenz, 623
Understanding Reading Responses
A reading response is a short, focused paper about one scholarly article. The reading response
identifies, explains, and analyses the hypotheses and research questions, methodological
concepts, results and interpretation, and implications and significance of the work.
Reading Responses Can Be Tricky
In a reading response, your job is to write about the article, not about the actual topic of the
article. For example, if you are doing a Reading Response to D’Anselmo, Marzoli, &
Brancucci’s (2016) article about the influence of memory and attention on dichotic listening,
your response should be about their empirical research: What were the aims and hypotheses of
their study? What method was used in this study? What were the results, and how do they inform
our understanding of dichotic listening? You are not writing a paper about the effects of memory
and attention on dichotic listening. Rather, you must identify, explain, and analyze the main
sections of the article (the summary).
Furthermore, as a part of critical reading, you will need to consider your own reaction to the
article (the critique). Here you will need to include an assessment or opinion about the reasoning,
logic, method, or summary/interpretation of the findings. Additionally, you will acknowledge
any limitations, and address alternative explanations of the results.
Read Carefully and Closely
Your key to success in writing reading responses is your understanding of the article. Therefore,
it is essential to read carefully and closely. Utilize every resource available to you, including the
course TA, UWM Writing Center, and Panther Academic Support Services (PASS).
Writing The Reading Response
One significant challenge in writing a reading response is deciding what information or examples
from the article to include. Keep in mind that the reading responses are much shorter than the
article itself. You do not have the space to explain every point the researchers make. Instead, you
will need to explain the researchers’ main points and find an example or two that illustrates these
Also, keep in mind that the use of quoted material should be avoided in almost ALL cases.
Describe the article in your own words; when you accurately paraphrase you illustrate that you
have understanding or mastery of a topic. The only time you should use a direct quotation is
when you intend to discuss something that the author said and wish to make clear exactly what
they said. This is often done in order to critique the statement. For example:
According the Martin and Lenz “blah blah quote quote” (2005, p. 42). While this
statement might seem to be true at first, once one considers findings by other researchers,
such as Staedler and Waldorf (2008) and Hamill and Ford (1976), it becomes clear that
Martin and Lenz may have drawn an incorrect conclusion…
As you can see, the material was quoted so that it was clear to the reader that the writer of the
paper was not misinterpreting what Martin and Lenz said.
Last update: Spring 2021

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