IRCS Technical Reports Series

Document Type

Technical Report

Date of this Version

November 1995


University of Pennsylvania Institute for Research in Cognitive Science Technical Report No. IRCS-95-29.


Attention only “recently”--i.e. in the eighteenth century-- achieved chapter status in psychology textbooks in which psychology is conceived as a natural science. This report first sets this entrance, by sketching the historical contexts in which psychology has been considered to be a natural science. It then traces the construction of phenomenological descriptions of attention, and compares selected theoretical and empirical developments in the study of attention over three time slices: mid-eighteenth century, turn of the twentieth century, and late twentieth century. Significant descriptive, theoretical, and empirical continuity emerges when these developments are considered in the large. This continuity is open to several interpretations, including the view that attention research shows long-term convergence because it is conditioned by the basic structure of attention as a natural phenomenon, and the less optimistic view that theory making in at least this area of psychology has been remarkably conservative when considered under large grain resolution, consisting in the reshuffling of a few core ideas.



Date Posted: 18 September 2006