Selective attention allows us to ignore what is task-irrelevant and focus on what is task-relevant. The cognitive and neural mechanisms that underlie this process are key topics of investigation in cognitive psychology. One of the more prominent theories of attention is perceptual load theory, which suggests that the efficiency of selective attention is dependent on both perceptual and cognitive load. It is now more than 20 years since the proposal of load theory, and it is a good time to evaluate the evidence in support of this influential model. The present article supplements and extends previous reviews (Lavie, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 75-82. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.12.004 , 2005, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19, 143-148. doi: 10.1177/0963721410370295 , 2010) by examining more recent research in what appears to be a rapidly expanding area. The article comprises five parts, examining (1) evidence for the effects of perceptual load on attention, (2) cognitive load, (3) individual differences under load, (4) alternative theories and criticisms, and (5) the future of load theory. We argue that the key next step for load theory will be the application of the model to real-world tasks. The potential benefits of applied attention research are numerous, and there is tentative evidence that applied research would provide strong support for the theory itself, as well as real-world benefits related to activities in which attention is crucial, such as driving and education.
University College Cork ->