Attention and Information Processing in Infants and Adults: Perspectives from Human and Animal Research

By Byron A. Campbell; Harlene Hayne et al. | Go to book overview

orienting response is not only useful for developmental studies of attention and cognition, but that it also is an excellent method for comparative analyses of these processes across a wide range of mammalian species.

The results of some of our experiments, however, do not conform with current theoretical models of the orienting response. For example, not only is the supposedly automatic response to a novel innocuous stimulus rather easily disrupted (see Fig. 5.8), but this disruption of the orienting response has little apparent effect on the central process of habituation. Animals exhibit equivalent retention of habituation whether they initially exhibit an orienting response to a novel auditory stimulus or not (see Fig. 5.9). This latter result strongly contradicts those theoretical models which state that the orienting response is a requisite initial step in the information-processing sequence (e.g., Ohman, 1979).

Another apparent challenge to current formulations of the orienting response is provided by the results of the experiments on the effects of habituation of the orienting response on information processing (pp. 125-128). From a Soklovian perspective, habituation is due to the development of a neuronal model of the eliciting stimulus. The results of our experiments, however, demonstrate that the development of a mental representation of the eliciting stimulus is not dependent on habituation of the orienting response.

In both of these sets of experiments it appears that latent habituation of the orienting response occurred, but under quite different circumstances. In the first instance latent habituation occurred even though the orienting response was never elicited, and in the second case latent habituation occurred in the absence of any diminution in magnitude of the orienting response. Taken together, these results question the assumption that the orienting response acts as either an index, a facilitator, or a regulator of the central process of attention (see Jennings, 1986). Obviously, in at least some situations, the orienting response does not reflect either the detection of a sensory stimulus nor the encoding of information about that stimulus.

Although it appears that there are substantial deficiencies in our conceptual understanding of the role of the orienting response in information processing, it should be emphasized that these defects are in our theories and not in the phenomenon itself. Given the pervasiveness of the orienting response across ontogeny and phylogeny it is certain that this response has an important role in the animal's life. It remains for us to determine the functional significance of the orienting response for information processing and how it can be used more precisely as an index of both animal and human cognition.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH01562 and National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Grant AA07641 to Byron

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