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WIREs Cogn Sci
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Context and attention control determine whether attending to competing information helps or hinders learning in school‐aged children

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Abstract Attention control regulates efficient processing of goal‐relevant information by suppressing interference from irrelevant competing inputs while also flexibly allocating attention across relevant inputs according to task demands. Research has established that developing attention control skills promote effective learning by minimizing distractions from task‐irrelevant competing information. Additional research also suggests that competing contextual information can provide meaningful input for learning and should not always be ignored. Instead, attending to competing information that is relevant to task goals can facilitate and broaden the scope of children's learning. We review this past research examining effects of attending to task‐relevant and task‐irrelevant competing information on learning outcomes, focusing on relations between visual attention and learning in childhood. We then present a synthesis argument that complex interactions across learning goals, the contexts of learning environments and tasks, and developing attention control mechanisms will determine whether attending to competing information helps or hinders learning. This article is categorized under: Psychology > Attention Psychology > Learning Psychology > Development and Aging
An illustration of the effects of learning context, attention control, and relational encoding on children's learning. (a) In the context of a clearly defined learning task occurring in the context of irrelevant competing information, engaging attention control promotes learning by supporting efficient target selection and suppression of competing distractors. In this case, attending to goal‐irrelevant competing information and encoding relations between the target and competing distractors would be detrimental for learning. For example, attending to unrelated or extraneous contextual information during a science lesson can be detrimental to learning. (b) In contrast, when competing information is relevant to an ongoing learning task attending to this information can benefit learning. In this case attention control remains valuable as efficient selection and suppression enhances processing of attended stimuli while flexible attention shifting allows for selection of both the target and relevant contextual information. Encoding relations across the target and competing information may boost learning and provide guidance for subsequent attention orienting. For example, if competing contextual information is related to an ongoing science lesson, attending to this information and encoding the relations between the contextual information and lesson material may benefit learning
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Psychology > Development and Aging
Psychology > Learning
Psychology > Attention

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