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The Meaning of an Orienting Response: A Study in the Hierarchical Order of Attending NICHD

Lewis, Michael; Harwitz, Marcia
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
National Institute for Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), National Science Foundation (NSF), Attention, Orientation, Preschool Children, Responses, Visual Perception


The purposes of this study are: (1) to attempt to show the weakness of the theory of a two-stage process of attending, i.e. having both separate and ordered focusing and elaborating aspects; (2) to offer an alternative approach whereby both focusing and elaborating are under the service of cognitive variables. The discussion covers the issue of the definition of a "new" stimulus event, the inherent difficulties in a simple matching process, and presents an alternative model for attending to stimulus events. An experiment is presented which demonstrates an orienting reflex (or) hierarchy comparable to hierarchies of concept formation attainment in the same age child. Specifically, a redundant visual signal is followed by four variations of that signal; changes in color, size, number, and rotation. The results, accounting for both discriminability and intrinsic value demonstrate a hierarchy of stimulus salience. This hierarchy of color, size, number, and rotation is consistent with concept formation acquisition and these results are used to argue for the proposed model of attending which emphasizes the need to consider cognitive principles in understanding an or. (Author/AJ).

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