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Controlled Processing in Psychology: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:00 Intro to Controlled Processing
  • 0:42 Definition of…
  • 2:14 Automatic Vs.…
  • 3:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Duane Cloud

Duane has taught teacher education courses and has a Doctorate in curriculum and instruction. His doctoral dissertation is on ''The Wizard of Oz''.

Our fast-paced world is full of things demanding our attention. The science behind attention involves two kinds of processes, referred to as automatic and controlled processing.

Intro to Controlled Processing

Laws prohibiting texting and cellphone use while driving a car continue to make it into the news. The hazards with mixing these activities are well-recognized at this point. Many of the issues have something to do with where a person's hands are while they are operating a vehicle. Another issue, however, concerns where a person's attention is directed while driving. Some scientists have suggested that the diversion of attention and other mental resources away from driving constitutes a greater problem than where a person's hands are situated. This brings us, in a roundabout way, to the concept of controlled processing.

Definition of Controlled Processing

Controlled Processes are processes in the mind that require a great deal of a person's mental resources. Generally, controlled processing is best performed when only one controlled activity is taking place. Automatic Processes are processes that utilize few mental resources, and several of these may take place at the same time. Both types of processing take cognitive resources. Cognition is the name for the mental activity of processing information about the world around us and deciding what to do with that information.

An example of a controlled process, as mentioned in the introduction, is driving a car. In order to safely and successfully drive a car, cognitive resources must be divided between the tasks of watching the road (direction, road signs, hazards), attending to other traffic (brake lights, turn signals), and other miscellaneous tasks. Furthermore, since one's hands and feet are involved in steering and accelerating, those tasks take cognitive resources as well.

Bear in mind that it may be possible to perform multiple instances of controlled processing at once. However, the quality of all the processes will suffer in some way. It is possible to have a conversation on a cellphone, fiddle with the radio, and drive a car at the same time. But this sort of behavior may lead to an accident on the highway. These accidents are part of the reason for having laws that govern texting and talking on a phone while driving.

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