Selective attention and control of action: Comparative psychology of an artificial, evolved agent and people. Academic Article uri icon


  • This study examined the selective attention abilities of a simple, artificial, evolved agent and considered implications of the agent's performance for theories of selective attention and action. The agent processed two targets in continuous time, catching one and then the other. This task required many cognitive operations, including prioritizing the first target (T1) over the second (T2); selectively focusing responses on T1, while preventing T2 from interfering with responses; creating a memory for the unselected T2 item, so that it could be efficiently processed later; and reallocating processing towards T2 after catching T1. The evolved agent demonstrated all these abilities. Analysis shows that the agent used reactive inhibition to selectively focus behavior. That is, the more salient T2, the more strongly responses towards T2 were inhibited and the slower the agent was to subsequently reallocate processing towards T2. Reactive inhibition was also suggested in two experiments with people, performing a virtually identical catch task. The presence of reactive inhibition in the simple agent and in people suggests that it is an important mechanism for selective processing.

published proceedings

  • Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance

author list (cited authors)

  • Ward, R., & Ward, R

citation count

  • 11

complete list of authors

  • Ward, Robert||Ward, Ronnie

publication date

  • October 2008