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Title: Attention as a multi‐level system of weights and balances
Abstract

This opinion piece is part of a collection on the topic: “What is attention?” Despite the word's place in the common vernacular, a satisfying definition for “attention” remains elusive. Part of the challenge is there exist many different types of attention, which may or may not share common mechanisms. Here we review this literature and offer an intuitive definition that draws from aspects of prior theories and models of attention but is broad enough to recognize the various types of attention and modalities it acts upon: attention as a multi‐level system of weights and balances. While the specific mechanism(s) governing the weighting/balancing may vary across levels, the fundamental role of attention is to dynamically weigh and balance all signals—both externally‐generated and internally‐generated—such that the highest weighted signals are selected and enhanced. Top‐down, bottom‐up, and experience‐driven factors dynamically impact this balancing, and competition occurs both within and across multiple levels of processing. This idea of a multi‐level system of weights and balances is intended to incorporate both external and internal attention and capture their myriad of constantly interacting processes. We review key findings and open questions related to external attention guidance, internal attention and working memory, and broader attentional control (e.g., ongoing competition between external stimuli and internal thoughts) within the framework of this analogy. We also speculate about the implications of failures of attention in terms of weights and balances, ranging from momentary one‐off errors to clinical disorders, as well as attentional development and degradation across the lifespan.

This article is categorized under:

Psychology > Attention

Neuroscience > Cognition

 
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Award ID(s):
1848939
NSF-PAR ID:
10378373
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
WIREs Cognitive Science
Volume:
14
Issue:
1
ISSN:
1939-5078
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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