Current Research in the Study of Selective Attention
Michael I. Posner
University of Oregon
One way of viewing the problems of the conference is in terms of the subdisciplines of cognitive science. I take it that we are somewhere between psychology and neuroscience and that our task is to bring together concepts of neuroscience with those of cognitive psychology. These two fields ask somewhat different questions. Neuroscience concerns the most fundamental principles of how nervous systems are constructed. For that reason, there is a very strong emphasis on systems much simpler than the human being. On the other hand, cognitive science seems to be taking its lead from the study of language and artificial intelligence, and as such it tends to very complex problems such as a theory of how the human represents all real-world knowledge. Those of us who are studying very simple kinds of cognitive tasks feel on the fringe of cognitive science because the tasks we choose seem a bit trivial. Yet in another sense we deal with a most central question, the relationship between mind and brain. I think the most interesting topic currently dealing with the integration of mind (cognition) and brain (neuroscience) is the problem of attention.
I'd like to start by looking at a specific task as it might appear in neuroscience and as it might appear in cognitive science. I think it illustrates some of the differences in approach. It is the task of reading silently. First, we may view it by the measure of cerebral blood flow using, for example, the radioactive XENON technique ( Lassen, Ingvar, & Skinhoje, 1978). The parts of the brain that are most active during the task of reading silently are visual areas, speech areas, and eye-movement areas. A neuroscientist looking at a complex task like reading silently can point to localization of the different brain processes that underlie the task.