Zacks, R. T., & Hasher, L. (1994). Directed ignoring: Inhibitory regulation of working memory. In D. Dagenbach & T. H. Carr (Eds.), Inhibitory mechanisms in attention, memory, and language. (pp. 241-264). New York: Academic Press.
Excerpt from Introduction: Parents of teenage children suffer inordinately at the hands of their children and a key component of this suffering is induced by the adolescent's ability to ignore a wide range of stimulation, from background music to television noise, to a ringing telephone, to, most irritatingly of all, parental speech. These are all examples of a category of behaviors that we call directed ignoring. Sometimes, as for the teenagers of our example, the reason for ignoring information is an internally driven one. Other times the reason for ignoring information is externally driven, as occurs, for example, when there is a change in topic or a sudden change in stimulation -- formerly relevant information must now be ignored and new information attended in order to accommodate the change. The importance of directed ignoring for a coherent mental life and for organized behavior is considerable and in this chapter we begin to make this argument by providing a number of formal examples of internally and externally driven directed ignoring behaviors. We take as our central task, however, to demonstrate the role of an attentional mechanism -- inhibition -- in fostering or limiting the ability to engage in directed ignoring behaviors. To this end, we report research that compares college-age young adults (who are only a little older than the teenagers of our example) to individuals at the other end of the adult age continuum, old age, an age at which we believe directed ignoring becomes particularly impaired, and impairment which to a large extent can be attributed to a decline in the efficiency with which attentional inhibition operates.
Back to Publications