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kbrown's picture

Attention and conciousness

Hi guys,

  I really enjoyed our discussion last tuesday, I thought it provoked some really interesting questions about both the definition of conciousness and who and what we can apply the term to (dream states, sleep states, death, animals etc.)  One question that I had about the presentation was in reference to the "gorilla in the midst" demonstration. 

If my understanding is correct, researchers used this as an example of the failure of conciousness, demonstrating that most humans do not notice the gorilla because they are unable to be concious of all things at all times, and further that autistic patients would notice the gorilla because they display a different type of conciousness more similar to that of animals which enables them to be concious of more and in more detail.  This experiment reminded me of an experiment that I learned about in a cognition and memory class that I took while I was abroad.  In this experiment, subjects were asked to listen to an audio recording telling a story and then were exposed at random intervals to a voice calling their name.  Although I don't remember the exact details of the experiment, I do remember that they were asked to pay attention to the story for some detail.  Experimentors found that some people almost always noticed when their name was called, while others almost never noticed.  Researchers therefore proposed that there are really two groups of people: those who are better at focusing on the story and will not notice when they hear their name, and those who are less attentive and will notice when they hear their name. 

It seems to me that the same might apply to the gorilla in the mist experiment, namely that there is not a clear cut difference between autistic and non-autistic people, but that perhaps there is a continuum, and that some non-autistic people do notice the gorilla, and also might conceivably hear their name called.  Perhaps autistic people represent an extreme on this continuum?  Also on a more general note, I'm still unsure of how in these experiments we differentiate between attention and conciousness.  Are they the same thing or simply interrelated?

Thanks guys!

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