Divided Attention And Classroom Learning

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Educational Psychology


The extent to which students pay attention to the information presented to them in school is commonly associated with their level of academic performance. It would seem logical that if the conditions in which school-learning takes place could be arranged to increase attention, school-learning might also increase.Arranging conditions in the classroom to facilitate attending requires an understanding of the internal processes needed to account for learning (Gagne, 1976). A model of human learning must specify the elements and operation of attention in order to serve as the basis for a classroom investigation into the relationship between attention and academic performance.A model of human learning proposed by Daniel Kahneman (1973) clearly describes the attributes and the operation of attention in information processing. Kahneman proposed that attention is divisible and is allocated in accordance with a policy containing four elements. The four elements, as incorporated in the instructional treatments of the study reported here are: (1) Novel inputs, (2) Instructions, (3) Grouping by content continuity, (4) Reduction of fatigue factors. This investigation studied the relative effectiveness of treatments incorporating two different degrees of the allocation policy in enhancing students academic performance.Eighth grade students were presented with science information drawn from the middle school curriculum in four conditions of instruction, to which they were randomly assigned. Treatment Condition AA', the presumably optimal condition, incorporated all four elements of the allocation policy. Treatment Condition AB was presumably less than optimal because of the absence of cognitive grouping factors, element (3). The other two conditions, A' and A, were designed to simulate the instructional conditions in a standard classroom and incorporated only elements (2) and (4).It was hypothesized that students instructed to divide attention between simultaneous inputs of science information presented under presumably optimal conditions (Group AA') would attain higher mean scores on a standardized measure of achievement than the combined mean scores of students in the other three conditions of treatment. It was also hypothesized that students instructed to divide attention between simultaneous inputs of science information presented under conditions less in accord with the model (Group AB) would not attain higher mean scores on the dependent measure of academic achievement than the combined mean scores of students receiving instruction under conditions similar to those in the ordinary classroom.The hypotheses were tested at the .05 level with planned comparisons. It was found that neither hypotheses was supported by the results of the tests. Students in the presumably optimal condition (AA') did not attain higher mean scores than the combined mean scores of students in the other three treatment conditions. Students in the presumably less optimal condition (AB) attained significantly higher (p < .05) mean scores than those of students in the A' and A treatment conditions.In order to further investigate the effectiveness of Treatment Conditions AA' and AB in differentially affecting the performance of students with high and low aptitudes for science, a post hoc analysis of SRA Science Achievement Test scores obtained prior to this investigation was conducted. The Treatment Conditions (AA' and AB) did not differentially affect the academic performance of students with different levels of science aptitude.The results of the investigation did not support the assumptions of Kahneman's (1973) model. It appears that the parallel processing view of human information processing contained in the model does not provide a description of human learning useful in arranging the conditions of instruction to enhance academic performance.


Education, Educational Psychology

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