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The Effect of Task Demands on Attention Allocation in Children of Different Ages

Andrew R. Schiff and Irwin J. Knopf
Child Development
Vol. 56, No. 3 (Jun., 1985), pp. 621-630
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Society for Research in Child Development
DOI: 10.2307/1129752
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1129752
Page Count: 10
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The Effect of Task Demands on Attention Allocation in Children of Different Ages
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Abstract

In order to study the effect of task demands on attention allocation, 20 9-year-olds and 20 13-year-olds were presented with a primary and secondary task. Subjects were instructed either to respond to the primary task or to respond to both tasks. The stimulus display was the same for all subjects and consisted of a set of symbols presented in the center of a display panel and a set of letters presented in the corners. The primary task was to detect 1 symbol by pushing a response key, while the secondary task was to remember the letters. In order to improve upon the manner in which attention has previously been measured, the eye movements of subjects were recorded. Older subjects were found to perform better than younger subjects on all tasks that they were instructed to complete. 13-year-olds had significantly more correct detections than 9-year-olds, even though under single-task instructions the age groups did not significantly differ in the time spent fixating the central symbols. 13-year-olds spent less time fixating the letters, but when instructed to complete both tasks, they recalled and recognized significantly more letters than 9-year-olds. Overall, these findings were interpreted as indicating that the ability to allocate attention in accordance with task demands improves with age.

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