Memory and attention

  • Created by: becky_99
  • Created on: 27-12-19 13:22

What is attention?

Can be described as the cognitive process by which information is selected for further processing and other information is discarded (Ward, 2015).

Attention is needed to avoid sensory overload.

Metaphors such as "Bottleneck" (Broadbent, 1958); "Spotlight" (Posner, 1980); and "Resource" or "Capacity" (Kahneman, 1973) have been used to describe attention. 

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Attention in sport

Athletes often need to use attention to filter out the distractors in sport.

Often referred to as maintaining "concentration" or "focus" in sport.

Attentional focus can be hindered by the presence of anxiety and can result in "choking under pressure" (e.g. Eysenck and Calvo, 1992).

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Two topic areas

Attention to action:

  • Automatic vs. controlled processing
  • Dual-task situations (Strayer & Johnston, 2001)

Perceptual attention or spatial attention:

  • What automatically captures attention? (Attentional capture, spatial cueing)
  • What doesn't? (Inattentional blindness)
  • Directing spatial attention
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Automatic vs. controlled processing

Automatic processing:

  • Attention is not required to execute an action
  • Automaticity achieved through practice

Controlled processing:

  • Attention is required to execute an action
  • What types of situations require controlled processing?
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Dehaene et al. (2006)

Awareness is linked to top-down attention to a sufficiently strong sensory stimulus. This is associated with activity spreading to a frontal-parietal network. In contrast, non-aware conditions are linked to varying levels of activity in sensory cortex alone. 

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Attention to action - Norman & Shallice (1980s)

Controlled processing needed for:

  • Situations requiring planning or decision-making
  • Novel or unfamiliar situations
  • Dangerous or highly important situations
  • Situations where a habitual, or well-learned responses must be overcome
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Types of memory content

Procedural vs. declarative:

  • Procedural: skills, abilities - non-verbal
  • Declarative: verbal, describable

Episodic vs. semantic:

  • Episodic: time and place
  • Semantic: general knowledge
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Episodic vs. semantic


  • Autobiographical
  • Concrete; linked to specific time and place
  • Events organised in order of occurrence
  • Memory attached to its source
  • Truth is personal


  • General knowledge
  • Abstract
  • Not temporarily organised
  • Memory divorced from the source
  • Truth is cultural rather than personal
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Atkinson-Shiffrin (1968) model of memory

Stimulus --> sensory stores --> short-term memory store --> long-term memory.

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Short-term memory rehearsal & serial position effe

Listen to words on a list and write down as many as you can in any order.

Better recall for:

  • Words at the beginning of the list?
  • Middle of the list?
  • Words at the end of the list?

Serial position effects:

  • Primary effect: better memory for initial than middle items
  • Recency effect: better memory for final items than middle items
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Explanation of Postman & Phillips (1965)

First items maintained well:

  • Can rehearse and encode; no interference yet from other items

Last items maintained well:

  • Still in STM, easy to rehearse and reproduce
  • Unless disrupted by the interfering task
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Limits to STM and chunking

STM limts depend on knowledge in LTM.

Miller (1956) on "chunks" - units of knowledge

Harder to remember:

  • M   OTN   HSR   AF


  • MOT   NHS   RAF
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Miller (1956)

"The magical number 7, plus or minus 2".

Most people can remember about 7 items in short-term memory, plus or minus 2.

But what counts as an "item"?

  • Is M O T three items or one?

Items can be "chunked" together, so they count as on item.

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Summarise STM

Used for?

  • Remember things briefly (e.g. phone number while dialling)
  • Rehearse things to put into LTM (e.g. new friend's name)
  • Bring things to mind from LTM (e.g. your 5th birthday party)

Limited capacity?

  • Serial position effects
  • Miller's magic number 7 +/- 2


  • The more knowledge you have, the more you can chunk things together
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Long-term memory

Stored representations of all of your knowledge.

Very durable - some argue that it is permanent.

But why do we forget or misremember things?

Two broad themes:

  • Selection problem is huge: for any given situation, what is relevant?
  • Incompleteness problem: almost never have all the info - must augment
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Levels of processing - Craik & Lockhart (1972)

Items can be processed in different ways.

Memory depends on what process.

Encoding ranges from shallow to deep.

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Craik & Tulving (1975)

Participants given 60 words, one at a time.

Answered 1 of 3 questions about each:

  • "Is the word in capital letters?"
  • "Does the word rhyme with...?"
  • "Would it fit in this sentence? John bought a ... at the hardware shop"


  • Question read out loud
  • Word flashed briefly on a screen
  • Subject answers "yes" or "no"
  • In the end, the recognition test for all 60 words and 120 new words
  • For each, did you see this earlier or not?
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Craik & Tulving (1975)

Results: "the basic notions are that the episodic memory trace may be thought of as a rather automatic by-product of operations carried out by the cognitive system and that the durability of the trace is a positive function of "depth" of processing, where depth refers to greater degrees of semantic involvement...".

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Rogers, Kuiper & Kirker (1977) "Self-reference eff

Added self-reference to levels of processing tasks:

  • Letter-size
  • Rhyme task
  • Meaning task
  • Self-reference task: does the adjective describe you?
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Chase & Simon (1973)

3 participants used in experiment 1 of the study:

  • 1 master
  • 1 class A player
  • 1 beginner

2 conditions:

  • Real game: twenty chess game positions were simulated
  • Random game: eight random game positions

Participants then completed a perception task and then a memory task.

Memory task involved viewing each game position for a period of 5 seconds and were then asked to reconstruct the game position from memory.

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Expertise in sports

"Expert athletes retain, recall, and recognise significantly more information about structured game situations than less experienced participants, when information is domain-specific and presented briefly" (Helsen & Starkes, 1999).

This is true in sports such as:

  • Basketball (Allard, Graham and Paarsalu, 1980)
  • Field hockey (Starkes, 1987)
  • Volleyball (Allard and Starkes, 1980; Ripoll, 1988)
  • Soccer (Helsen and Pauwels, 1993)

Some ability can transfer between similar sports, e.g. between basketball, netball or soccer (Abernethy, Baker & Cote, 2005).

They do not, however, have greater ability in recognising patterns outside the domain of sports.

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