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Controlled processes can be described as those attention processes that require an individual to draw upon central cognitive resources or rather the controlled attention. This processing therefore demands attention capacity, serialized in nature, effortful and open to conscious control (Dennis, 2010, p.1). Automatic attention on the other hand does not require one to draw upon such resources and therefore demands little or no attention capacity thus being analogous and hard to alter or suppress.
Automatic processing will involve activities that do not require attention, can complete themselves without conscious control, and entail parallel processing like driving a car and listening to the radio or reading. Therefore, it is important to note that a process can become automatic through extensive practice like learning to walk and learning to drive.
When a child is learning to walk they require controlled attention but when they perfect walking, it becomes an unconscious process. The same case applies to a driver who has years of experience and can easily drive while listening to a talk show at the same time.
Distinction between automatic and controlled processing
Generally automatic processes are rapid, for instance a skilled driver can shift a gear faster than a beginner. It is also effortless and entails lesser demands on concentration or attention like changing the gear and at the same time concentrating on a conversation and not concentrating on driving.
Additionally, it is also unavailable to consciousness, for example a novice driver can possibly remember mainly of his efforts to change gear during a lesson but if a skilled driver is required to demonstrate the same they will most likely carry out the task less efficiently than how they would do it on a normal driving situation. Lastly, an automatic process is unavoidable because when we continually execute something it grows into a routine and we cannot evade doing it, for instance, majority of the drivers look in the rear-view mirror prior to overtaking.
Controlled processing on the contrary will involve activities that require attention and conscious control for instance driving a car for the first time. Controlled processes are also slow since it is mostly applicable for novel circumstances that we are not conscious of how to respond to, promptly and reliably.
They are also effortful and form profound demands on concentration; therefore the learner’s attentiveness must be intense. In this processing there is absolute consciousness because lots of conscious efforts are billed to the new chore.
Relevance to divided attention
Divided attention is concerned with our ability to attend to more than one task at a time. This ability is often determined by the similarity of the tasks involved and how well we are experienced at the task. The discussion of divine attention would not be complete without the relationship of both automatic and controlled processing.
Divided attention is applicable in the case of automatic processing. A task that is very well and frequently practiced turns out to be automatic and as a result t requires little, if any mental resources and therefore it becomes possible to do the task at the same time with other tasks.
Besides, the performance of the task will not be affected since no working memory or conscious attention is required. However, if divided attention is attempted in the case of controlled processing, performance will greatly decline. This is because there will be two tasks requiring conscious attention at the same time and from one person.
When considering the relevance of automatic processing in divided attention there are two important aspects to consider; that is interference and facilitation. Interference refers to the extent to which a single process impedes performance of another process. On the other hand facilitation points to the range to which a practice aids performance of another. Therefore divided attention is more applicable or practical where there is higher facilitation and low interference.
At times we have the capacity to focus on more than one input at a time particularly if we are experienced in the task; however, according to Fulcher (2003) it is easier to split our attention amid dissimilar tasks than between parallel tasks. The more the practice, the lesser the attention required to allocate to a particular task. This is because it becomes automatic when the task is done without thinking about it.
Simple visual features like shape and colour can be detected automatically but joint features like shape and colour require directed attention. Apparently automatic processes might obstruct tasks entailing controlled processing. Additionally, people make mistakes in the process of automatic processes probably due to divided attention, for instance, mixing up the stages of different tasks or forgetting something you intended to carry out and doing a different thing.
In conclusion, automatic processing involves those activities that do not require attention or capacity and can develop from doing something frequently. It also involves parallel processing like doing two things at the same time. Controlled processing requires conscious attention and is most evident in novel situations.
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Divided attention is the ability of an individual to carry out many things at the same time. Therefore automatic processing can be defined as the gateway for divided attention because the more we learn to do things the more they become automatic and we can therefore do them amidst other tasks since we do not need conscious attention in doing them. However, it is difficult to have divided attention in the case of controlled processing.
Dennis, S. (2010). Controlled and Automatic Processing: The Stroop Effect. Web.
Fulcher, E. (2003). Cognitive psychology; Attention. London: Crucial, a division of Learning Matters Ltd.