2013. Vol.4, No.4, 410-419
Published Online April 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Span of Attention across Stages of Intellectual Impairment: Does
Affective Stimulation Matter?
Anwesha Chakrabarti, Mallika Banerjee
Department of Psychology, University of Calcutta, Kolkata, India
Received January 30th, 2013; revised February 26th, 2013; accepted March 23rd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Anwesha Chakrabarti, Mallika Banerjee. This is an open access article distributed under the
Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any
medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
The present study explores how affectivity and abstraction value influences the span of attention of nor-
mal and retarded population. Five intellectual functioning groups were chosen, six in each (N = 30), from
both sexes, age of 11 - 23 (mean age 17.36) years from the urban hospitals and educational institutions.
For standardization of stimulus materials and controlling of extraneous variables three preliminary expe-
riments were done. A repeated measure experimental design was followed in the main study. Result
shows attention span tends to decrease with an increment in abstraction level in the lower range of intel-
lectual ladder. Affective loading in stimulus materials does not enhance the span of attention, per se it in-
hibits cognition. The result was interpreted in the light of behavioural observation during the experimental
conditions as well as the obtained statistical output. Overall analysis revealed that the persons with mod-
erate retardation scored better in attention span in comparison to mild retarded group where average group
scored highest. So, the result of span of attention did not follow the ladder of intellectual impairment. The
causal attribution on result was interpreted in terms of environmental distraction and the lack of basic
cognitive need of the moderately retarded persons which inversely facilitated better attention span as their
attention span remains unaffected by distraction. The result is helpful to design the learning materials for
the specific intellectual group.
Keywords: Span of Attention; Intellectual Impairment; Concrete-Abstract Stimulus Dimension;
Cognitive-Affective Stimulus Dimension
Intelligence, as a subjective factor of cognitive functioning,
must play an important role in attention. Earlier studies in the
area of short term memory created somewhat confusing picture.
Some research suggested that the performance of children with
mental retardation was no different from that of non-disabled
individuals. Many methodological limitations with this early
memory research made interpretation very difficult (Drew et al.,
1996). Some other group of studies has mentioned that mental
retardation is characterized by low attentional capacity. Luria
(1963) has mentioned that the defective orienting reaction of
the retarded, which prevents efficient attention to novel stimuli,
is responsible for their learning failures.
The early test developers assumed that there is a positive
correlation between intelligence and the ability to maintain at-
tention to a task (Crosby et al., 1968). Zeaman et al. (1963)
have postulated that a low initial probability of attending to re-
levant dimensions of a stimulus display is responsible for im-
pairment shown by retarded individuals in visual discrimina-
tion learning. But Crosby noted that the studies done by Zea-
man have been limited to visual learning to moderately retarded
children. Denny (1964, 1966) also attributed the impairment
which persons with retardation show in learning to an attention
deficit problem. A number of authors in past literature explain
the short attention span of retarded individuals in a number of
ways. Hutt and Gibby (1965) opined that attention deficit in
retarded individuals is a result of persistent anxiety, where as
Zigler (1966) has suggested that distractibility or outer direct-
edness is the key factor for poor attention in this group. So, the
past literature has noted that persons having mental retardation
are characterized by low attention span, but there is poor litera-
ture which states how it is related to the progressive degree of
impairment. One of the prime aims of the present study is to
uncover how the different intellectual functioning levels re-
spond in span of attention task.
As the early literature has suggested attention gets affected
by the complex interplay among a number of subjective and
objective factors. Nature of stimulus quality has been proved to
be a significant determinant for attention. This nature of stimu-
lus quality may be varied in a number of ways. For example,
stimulus sets can be varied in terms of living or non-living ob-
jects, or human figures and animal figures. In the present study
the nature of stimulus has been varied from two different per-
spectives: one is changing the abstraction level and other is
changing the affective value in stimulus category.
Processing of concrete and abstract ideas was a keenly inves-
tigated area from 1970s with the emergence of dual coding
hypothesis (Paivio, 1971). When concrete and abstract words
are given, concrete words are better recalled, and in comparison
to words pictures are reproduced easily (Schwanenflugel & Stowe,
1989; Paivio, 1971, 1986; Richardson, 2003). Hinojosa et al.
(2001) showed that Recognition Potential (RP) of concrete and
abstract words that actually differ in their degree of imageabil-
ity (ability to form image) and semantic processing areas in
which the RP originates display a higher activation for concrete
(more imageable) material compared with abstract words and
pseudo words. In terms of concreteness effects in verbal mem-
ory, performance measure typically indicates that concrete
words are easier than abstract words (Howe & Hunter, 1985).
Concreteness has been shown to influence the recall pattern of
both young and old adults, although it is not always clear whe-
ther the magnitude of this effect is developmentally invariant
(Craik et al.). This concrete-abstract stimulus processing is a
very much relevant issue in intellectual deficiency. It hampers
in their conceptualization of ideas as well as making relations
between two or more concepts. Concrete materials are easier to
process they are more sensual where as abstract stimuli are
more conceptual, having less physical referents. Concretizing
the stimulus material it may help them in learning and under-
standing the external world. The present study intends to see
how concretization influences perception in intellectually im-
paired group.
Literature suggests there emotion plays a great role in regula-
tion of attention. It serves an environmental cue to prioritize
cognition (Lazzarus, 1991; Simon, 1967). According to Dolan
(2002), one of the emerging fields of psychological research is
to know how emotion interacts with and influences other do-
mains of cognition, memory and reasoning. Waring (2010)
noted that many earlier studies demonstrated that emotionally
charged items are more likely to attract attention than are emo-
tionally neutral stimulus. Evidence from a variety of sources
shows when both emotional and neutral items complete for pro-
cessing resources; emotion is able to bias the competition (Desi-
more et al., 1995). According to Anderson (2005) emotion modu-
lates the attentional blink and impairs concurrent task perform-
ance in divided attention paradigms (Talmi et al., 2007) and
slows down font-colour naming in the Stroop task (Hadley et
al., 2006). Anthony (2004) viewed the role of affection on at-
tention from a phenomenological perspective and described
how several level of affective force are related to mode of at-
tentiveness. According to cognitive tuning model positive affect
promotes cognition as it generates relational, heuristic and in-
tuitive processing style. In contrast negative affect inhibits cog-
nition by giving rise item specific, systematic or reflective pro-
cessing (Strack & Duetch, 2004).
Although the role of affection on cognition is well researched
area, but how it is further connected to intellectual impairment
is a rarely studied area. The present experiment aims at finding
out how different levels of intellectual impairment perform in
attentive task when the stimulus has affective loading. So, an-
other way of varying the nature of stimulus, in this study, is to
vary the affective value within stimulus category. In this study
“Affective value” is defined as the amount of emotive compo-
nents embedded in a particular form of stimulus. When feelings
and emotions are attached with stimulus category it is termed as
affectively loaded stimulus and the stimulus without the desired
level of emotive value is termed as cognitively loaded stimulus.
Following Darwinian Theory of natural selection, it may be
said that emotion accompanies an aroused physiological state
which gives rise to express the felt emotion by bodily gestures,
facial expressions along with different verbal and nonverbal
cues. Expression of emotions has survival value (Darwin, 1872)
that serves a particular form of communication between ones
inner subjective state with the outside objective world.
Goleman’s (1995) theory of emotional intelligence showed
the importance of understanding other’s emotions in social and
interpersonal context. As a number of social skills it is another
deficit area for persons with mental retardation. The emotion-
specificity hypothesis states that mental retardation is associ-
ated with deficits in decoding facially expressed emotions that
cannot be fully accounted for by mental age (Rojahn et al.,
1995). However not a sufficient number of research was found
to reveal this area much clearly. The present study intends to
see the impact of affective value on attention task in different
intelligence level.
In the present study, attempt has been made to study the cog-
nitive ability (through attention span), of the individuals having
below average IQ score, in cognitive and affective loaded stim-
uli by varying levels of abstraction of the same stimulus. Among
these two categories of stimuli, both of the stimulus categories
requires cognitive processing, but the affective stimuli consists
significantly higher affective value and thus labeled as so. It is
to be explored by this study to find out with a given level of im-
pairment, how much abstraction level could be afforded in cog-
nitive and affective dimension.
So, the objectives of the present study are to see whether 1)
Span of attention differs across various levels of intellectual
functioning; 2) Span of attention differs with the variation of
levels of abstraction; 3) Span of attention differs with the affec-
tive quality of stimulus.
Thirty (six in each group) 11 - 23 years (mean 17.5 years)
old individuals having different range of intellectual function-
ing are taken from various special educational institutions and
hospitals. They have been categorized according to their intel-
lectual status as measured by Binet Kamat Intelligence Test in
the following groups: Average (IQ range 90 - 110), Dull normal
(IQ range 80 - 89), Border line (IQ range 70 - 79), Mildly re-
tarded (IQ range 50 - 69), and Moderately retarded (IQ range
35 - 49). Only individuals having the mother tongue of either
Hindi or Bengali and having the ability to read words either in
Bengali or in English were taken for the study. All the indi-
viduals had the history of schooling for at least two years. Indi-
viduals having any associated disability except mental retarda-
tion and having any history of major psychological illness were
excluded from the study.
Materials and Design
For the main study six stimulus cards were used; three for
cognitive dimension and three for affective dimension varying
the levels of abstraction in each category. They have been la-
beled as cognitively loaded and affectively loaded stimulus ca-
tegory respectively (Figure 1).
Stimulus Card Description
In each condition, 8 stimuli were presented simultaneously
against a background of 24 × 15 inch white chart paper. The
inter-stimulus distance was kept constant by placing all the stim-
uli equidistantly. The relative positions of each 8 stimuli (for
each cognitive and affective dimension) were kept constant.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 411
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Clay or plastic
photographs Words
IV 2
Fruit models
made up with
clay or plastic
Photographs of
fruit models
used in card 1
Names (words)
of fruits used in
card 1
Card 1 Card 2
IV 1
(Levels of abstraction)
Concrete Abstract
Semi abstract
Card 3
Dolls having
Photographs of
dolls used in
card 4
Names of
emotions used
in card 4
Card 6 Card 4 Card 5
Figure 1.
Description of six cards used.
For the purpose of maximizing experimental control, 3 pre-
liminary studies have been done regarding categorization of
cognitive and affective loaded stimulus category, standardiza-
tion of emotional stimulus, checking the possible order effect.
Preliminary Study 1
What should be called an emotional stimulus? Can anything
be termed as a neutral stimulus? Any stimulus has its existence
in its perceiver’s experience. Despite of all the objectivity per-
ception is to some extent subjective. Thus emotionality within
the stimulus material can only be evaluated by the perceivers.
The terms “emotional stimulus” can appropriately exist when
the stimulus arise the feeling of emotion in a generalized popu-
lation. A “non emotional” or “neutral stimulus” is when despite
of its subjective association with personal emotion a large po-
pulation of observers interpret it as “not having emotional tone
within the stimulus” or “emotion is not induced within the
stimulus”. Hence, the objective of conducting this pilot study
was categorization of all the stimuli according to the affectivity
associated with the stimulus so that the terms like “cognitively
loaded” and “affectively loaded” stimulus category can safely
be used. Here, the aim was to determine quantitatively how much
emotional value is embedded in each of the stimulus categories.
On the basis of this result it is to be seen whether we can label
the two sets of stimuli as “cognitively loaded” and “affectively
loaded” stimulus category or not.
15 subjects of 17 - 30 years age range, both male and female,
were having normal intellectual capacity without any record of
psychological disorder.
Each of the 16 stimulus items (8 fruit models and 8 dolls)
were presented randomly one by one. Subjects were asked to
see them carefully and judge how much emotional state is re-
vealed by the object. The subjects were further cautioned not to
judge the objects by their personal feeling attached with them,
rather to judge how much emotional value is there in the object,
whatever the particular emotion is. Whatever the emotion they
felt they were asked to judge the objects in 0 - 5 point rating
scale and to rate the potential emotionality embedded in the
objects, where 0 means no emotionality is embedded, and 5
means maximum emotionality is embedded and 1 - 4 points
were to be assigned in the scale for gradually increasing the
degree of emotional values in an equal interval.
................................ ...... ...... ......... ...... ...... ......... ...... ..
0 1 2 3 4 5
Gradually increasing in equal interval
0: No emotional state is revealed.
5: Maximum emotionality is revealed.
Result and Discussion
All the fruit models together received 7% emotional value as
judged by 15 subjects, whereas, the dolls having different emo-
tional expressions received 81.4% emotional value. The maxi-
mum emotional value of 12% was received by the fruit “man-
go” among all the fruits and a minimum value of 69.4% was re-
ceived by the doll labeled as “relaxed” among all the dolls.
So, it may be said that the dolls models can be labeled as
“affectively loaded” stimulus category because it got signifi-
cantly much high emotional value than that of the fruits models.
Even, the maximum emotional value of fruits got 12% which is
significantly lower than the minimum emotional value (69.4%)
received by dolls in one item.
On the basis of the above-mentioned judgment given by 15
subjects, it may be concluded that the fruits models can be la-
beled as “cognitively loaded stimulus” and the dolls having
different facial features can be labeled as “affectively loaded”
stimulus category having the consideration that cognition and
affection are present in all perception, but in varying degree.
Preliminary Study 2
Standardization of Emotional Stimulus
Perception and recognition of emotion through facial and ge-
stural expression was one of the main topics of investigation for
many years to the researchers. Emotion by its character is being
expressed through bodily gestures especially through face. This
process has great adaptive value because of the fact that the
generated emotion needs to be communicated to other members
of society. Perceivers play a great role in this process to under-
stand the expressed emotion. Recognition and understanding of
the perceived emotion is not as simple as it seems to. Some-
times it involves a very much complicated process. Some other
times subtlety within itself makes the process of understanding
a little difficult. The concept of “mixed emotion” also makes it
very much complicated. In spite of all the subjectivity recogni-
tion of expressed emotion has requires high objectivity in per-
ception. Here, objectivity in this process means to label a same
emotion by a wide group of perceivers. Here, the objective of
the present study is to label each doll (used in the main study)
by a particular emotional state by some groups of individual.
Depending on the final population (individuals with intellec-
tual impairment) and the nature of stimulus materials (dolls
having emotional expression) three groups of participants were
chosen for the standardization of the expressed emotions. Ten
children (of age-range 5 - 12 years), eleven psychologists and
thirty one students of psychology were taken for this study.
As the main study is to be done among the intellectually im-
paired groups (marked by low mental age), the perception of
emotion by another group having low mental age (due to chro-
nological age) has been taken. So, the judgment regarding the
expressed emotion by the children group was important and
also got maximum priority while summarizing the data.
Judgments of psychologists about the expressed emotions re-
vealed by the stimulus set were important, because by profes-
sion psychologists deal with peoples’ emotion, perceptions, and
expressions etc. So they are master in the task of interpreting
others’ facial expressions objectively.
Students of psychology were taken because of the fact that
they are being trained to read others’ emotions. So their judg-
ments were important.
Only the 8 concrete models of dolls (prepared for the main
study) were being used here for each subject.
The eight doll figures were presented randomly one by one to
all the three groups of subjects. Each individual was instructed
to observe the doll figure very keenly and to label the expressed
emotion by his own judgment and language. Here the opinion
was open ended. The subjects were free to give any kind of
answer coming in his/her mind. After collecting the data for
each doll they were grouped or clustered in few categories. The
answers which were semantically similar were regarded as
same. For each doll the frequency of each answer was counted.
The maximally agreed upon answer was finally taken to coin
the doll with the particular emotion.
Result and Discussion
While summarizing the data, the synonymous words have
been treated as the same. In this process, the mode values were
calculated and used for the labeling of emotion (Table 1). So, a
range of opinion has been considered as correct and same for a
particular emotional expression. This method has been followed
according to Izard’s Differential Emotion Theory (1971). Fol-
lowing are the percentage of agreement in any emotion by all
the groups.
Preliminary Study 3
Checking the Possible O r d er Effect
In a repeated measure design each individual is receiving a
number of treatment conditions or levels of independent vari-
ables. As the different treatment levels are assigned to each
individual there may be an order effect which contaminates the
experimental findings. In order to eliminate the order effect
statistically Latin square Design is used to compute ANOVA
on small groups prior to the main study. So the aim is to see
whether there is any order effect of stimulus card presentation.
Table 1.
Percentage of agreement of the most popular response.
Names of
emotions Children Psychologists
Joyous 100% 100% 96%
Surprised 80% 100% 96%
Relaxed 70% 54% 58%
Unhappy 60% 72% 77%
Angry 60% 54% 54%
Shocked 60% 40% 51%
Naughty 100% 54% 51%
Sad 100% 100% 98%
Note: The percentage of frequency of response of each affectively loaded stimu-
lus (dolls) used for labeling with the most popular response (N = 52).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 413
Two intellectually impaired groups (mildly retarded intellec-
tual functioning and border line intellectual functioning) were
taken having 3 individuals in each group. The characteristics of
this sample involve all the characteristics of the sample for the
main study.
All the stimulus cards made for the main study are used here.
Each card was presented for 30 seconds audio visually (as it
is planned for the main study). A Latin square design was used
to test the order effect due to stimulus presentation for both of
the groups. The order of presentation of the same materials to
different subjects, thus, has been distributed so that it cannot
hamper the result.
The data were calculated by Latin square ANOVA. The com-
putation of Latin square design accounts the row and column
variances also with the treatment effect. In the present pilot
study as it is the prime aim to find out the order effect due to
stimulus card presentation only the computation for the row
variance was done. All the obtained F values were found to be
not significant at .05 level (Table 2) which indicates for the two
small groups the order effect, which is not treatment but affects
the result, was not significant for order of stimulus cards pres-
From the above study it may be concluded that the order ef-
fect is not significant here. Thus for the main study the order
effect has not been considered.
Procedure of the Main Study
Stimulus Presentation
Based on the preliminary studies done prior to the experi-
ment stimulus cards were presented. Each stimulus was pre-
sented audiovisually. But while visually all the stimuli were
presented simultaneously, auditory labeling were made one by
one. The visual part contained the independent variable and
thus varied across conditions, while the auditory part remained
the same for each stimulus in affective and cognitive dimen-
The auditory presentation was used as a controlling tech-
nique for a number of extraneous factors. Firstly, to overcome
Table 2.
F values for row variance (order of presentation) in two groups.
Card Subjects mild Borderline
Cognitive 6.97 7.74
Affective 1.61 1.02
Note: F values of row variance of possible order effect in a Latin square design in
two intellectual functioning groups (N = 3 in each) in both cognitive and affec-
tively loaded stimulus categories.
the subjectivity in perception of the stimulus materials (both in
case of fruits and emotions), verbal labeling was used. Sec-
ondly, to reduce the subjectivity in processing speed, audio-
visual presentation was used. Thirdly, In other words to in-
crease inter-subjectivity, verbal suggestion was used. Lastly,
attempt has been made to draw attention by involving the sub-
ject’s both sense organs (visual and auditory) towards a given
stimulus in a given time.
Sequence of Stimulus Car d P r e s e nt a t ion
The abstract materials were presented at first which has the
lesser probability to carry over imageries. In each condition cog-
nitively loaded stimulus category is presented at first, fol-
lowed by the affectively loaded stimulus category. It is because
the fruits models are more familiar and easy to process for
The difficulty level in cognitively loaded stimulus category
was low in the sense they are more concrete and easy to image
than emotions. The less difficult and more familiar materials
were presented at first to make the subject more comfortable
and easy with the experimental conditions.
Each stimulus card was shown for 30 - 35 seconds and it was
read out twice. The inter condition gap was kept 1 hour in be-
tween abstract, semiabstract and concrete level. Within this 1
hour the subjects were gone for different cognitive activities
studying in class, or performing some kind of academic task.
Within each condition (abstract, semiabstract and concrete)
two set of stimulus categories (cognitively loaded and affec-
tively loaded) were presented. The gap between these two lev-
els was 2 minutes. Usually all the experimental conditions were
completed within a day.
Data Collection
For taking the attention span 30 individuals of different in-
tellectual status were taken. The DV measure (recall) was taken
immediately after the presentation of stimulus card. The sub-
jects’ were encouraged to recall maximally. Verbal support
(feedback) was required for some people to make him or her
easier with the experimental set up and overcome their shyness
(if any). Some forms of these verbal feedback are “yes, right,
and? What else? Say. You have said very well.” Maximum
effort has been given, form the part of the experimenter to elicit
the total response from the subject. No time limit was main-
tained strictly. But after a given amount of response from the
subject, about 2 minutes pause was tolerated to give him or her
chance to make any more response. It was ensured that the
subject does not remember anything else. Subjects’ responses
were noted down and behavioural observations were made.
Scoring was done taking into account the disability of the
subjects. For this reason a relative lenient stance was taken to
score the responses. If the subject gives the right name of the
fruits and emotions, it is considered correct (in any language
among Hindi, English and Bengali).If the subject gives wrong
answer, i.e., the names of other fruits not used here, further
probing is made to ensure the subject’s imagery regarding the
given fruit (that s/he has said) was not there in the stimulus card.
If it matches with an existing one, the answer is considered as
correct. If the subject gives wrong answer, but cannot describe
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 415
it in any way which matches with the existing stimuli, the an-
swer is considered as wrong and therefore gets no mark. Same
rule was applicable for all emotional stimuli also.
The data obtained from the different groups of subjects were
arranged properly with respect to each of the variables consid-
ered in the present study.
The data were then analyzed statistically in accordance with
the objectives of the present study. At first, the means and stan-
dard deviations of the groups on the scores of different vari-
ables are computed (Table 3). Their intergroup and intra group
comparisons were attainted with independent and repeated mea-
sures used in suitable nonparametric statistical tests.
Intergroup Comparisons
For the purpose of the analysis of data, intergroup compare-
sons were made with respect to cognitively loaded and affec-
tively loaded stimuli separately. Here, for testing the signifi-
cance of differences among the five groups classified on the
basis of the levels of intellectual functioning, the nonparametric
statistical test, that is Kruskal-Wallis One-Way Analysis of Va-
riarce by Ranks was used (Siegel & Castellan, 1988).
This test was applied separately for comparing the groups in
respect of each of the three levels of abstraction, namely con-
crete (CC), semiabstract (SA) and abstract (ABS). These group
comparisons were attainted separately with each of the stimulus
category namely, cognitively loaded and affectively loaded.
The statistical vales of Kruskal-Wallis test were designated as
KW values (Table 4).
Intragroup Comparisons
This part of the analysis was based on repeated measures ob-
tained from three levels of abstraction by the same subjects
belonging to a particular group. For the purpose of intra group
comparisons among the three levels of abstraction the non-
parametric statistical test that is the Friedman Two-Way Ana-
lysis of Variance by Ranks was used. This test was used for the
significance of differences among the three levels of abstraction
separately in each of the five groups. The value obtained from
the Friedman test was designated as Fr (Table 5).
Multiple Comparisons
The present multiple comparisons follows a procedure which
is considered to be an extension of the Friedman Two-Way
Analysis of Variance by Ranks. This procedure is based on
critical Z values for particular number of multiple comparisons.
The present analysis involved 3 multiple comparisons and ac-
cordingly the Z value was determined. Then the critical value
was worked out taking the Z value in to account and following
the procedure as stated in the extended Friedman test. The sig-
nificance of difference between any two levels of abstraction
was checked against the obtained critical value (Siegel & Cas-
tellan, 1988).
It might be stated here that, multiple comparisons between
the groups would be attainted only when the value of Fr indi-
cating a significant difference among the 3 levels of abstraction
for a particular group. The obtained results showed that the Fr
Table 3.
Mean and SD of span of attention score of five groups.
Int. Grp Levels of abstraction
Cog. Aff. Cog. Aff.
Concrete 7.5000 7.3333 .83666 1.21106
Semiabstract 7.3333 7.0000 .81650 1.26491
Abstract 6.5000 5.6667 1.76068 1.63299
Concrete 7.0000 5.5000 .63246 1.37840
Semiabstract 6.8333 5.0000 .75277 1.26491
Dull normal
Abstract 5.6667 4.3333 1.50555 1.50555
Concrete 6.5000 5.8333 1.51658 1.16905
Semiabstract 5.8333 5.5000 1.47196 1.64317
Border line
Abstract 5.0000 4.5000 1.67332 1.37840
Concrete 5.5000 4.1667 .83666 .75277
Semiabstract 4.8333 3.5000 .75277 .83666
Mildly retarded
Abstract 4.1667 2.3333 .98319 1.36626
Concrete 5.8333 5.8333 1.16905 .75277
Semiabstract 5.5000 5.5000 1.22474 .89443
Moderately retarded
Abstract 4.6667 4.6667 .81650 1.26491
Note: The result shows the mean and standard deviation values of span of attention for five intellectual functioning groups (N = 30) in both cognitively loaded and affec-
tively loaded stimulus categories in each of the three levels of abstraction. Aff. = Affectively loaded category; Cog. = Cognitively loaded category; Int. Grp. = Intellectual
functioning group.
Table 4.
KW values among the five groups in each of the three levels of abstrac-
Cognitively loaded
stimulus category
Affectively loaded
stimulus category
Concrete 7.096 15.067**
Semiabstract 14.263** 11.222*
Abstract 12.071* 14.417**
Note: Kruskal Wallis values for the significance of difference among the five
groups (N = 30) in each of the three levels of abstraction in both the cognitively
loaded and affectively loaded category. *p < .05; **p < .01.
Table 5.
Fr values among the three levels of abstraction in each of the five
functioning group
Cognitively loaded
stimulus category
Affectively loaded
stimulus category
Moderately retarded 4.765 9.000*
Mildly retarded 10.000** 4.900
Borderline 10.300** .597
Dull normal 4.849 5.158
Average 5.600 3.265
Note: Freidman values significance of mean difference among three levels of
abstraction in each of the five intellectual functioning group (N = 30) in both
cognitively loaded and affectively loaded stimulus category. *p < .05; **p < .01.
values were significant in border line and mildly retarded intel-
lectual functioning group. The obtained Fr values were not
found to be significant in case of moderately retarded, dull nor-
mal and average intellectual functioning group of the cogni-
tively loaded stimulus category. For this, the present multiple
comparisons were attainted with respect to mildly retarded
(Group 2) and borderline intellectual functioning (Group 3) for
cognitively loaded stimulus category (Table 6) and it is at-
tained to moderately retarded group (Group 1) for affectively
loaded stimulus category (Table 7).
Comparisons between Cognitively and Affectively Loaded
An attempt was made in the present study to test the signifi-
cance of difference between cognitively and affectively loaded
stimulus categories with respect to certain variables. This com-
parison was based on repeated measures since the same sub-
jects belonging to a particular group were exposed to both ca-
tegories of stimulus. For the purpose of comparison between
these two stimulus categories the nonparametric statistical test
that is The Wilcoxon Signed Ranks Test was used (Siegel &
Castellan, 1988).
The statistic to be obtained from the Wilcoxon test was des-
ignated as T+. The differences between the two stimuli catego-
ries were tested in each level of abstraction for the different
groups separately (Table 8).The obtained results are given in
the following tables.
Table 6.
Post hoc analysis between levels of abstraction for cognitively loaded
stimulus category.
Group Mildly retarded
Borderline intellectual
Levels of
SA &
SA &
Average ranks1.17 &
2.83 &
2.00 &
1.08 &
1.08 &
2.17 &
Critical values1.391.39 1.39 1.39 1.39 1.39
Differences of
average ranks.83 1.66** .83 1.09 1.67** .58
Note: Post hoc analysis showing the mean difference between pairs of abstraction
levels in both mildly retarded (N = 6) and borderline intellectual functioning (N =
6) groups. ABS = Abstract Level; SA = Semiabstract Level; CC = Concrete Level.
*p < .05; **p < .01.
Table 7.
Post hoc analysis among levels of abstraction for affectively loaded sti-
mulus category.
Group Moderately retarded
Levels of abstractionABS & SA ABS & CC SA & CC
Average ranks 1.25 & 2.00 1.25 & 2.75 2.00 & 2.75
Critical values 1.39 1.39 1.39
Differences of
average ranks .75 1.50* .75
Note: Post hoc analysis showing the mean difference between pairs of abstraction
levels in moderately retarded group (N = 6). ABS = Abstract Level; SA = Semi-
abstract Level; CC = Concrete Level. *p < .05; **p < .01.
Table 8.
T+ values between cognitively loaded and affectively loaded stimulus
categories in each of the three levels of abstraction.
functioning groupAbstract Semiabstract Concrete
retarded 12.00 8.00 1.5
Mildly retarded 15.00** 15.00** 15.00**
Borderline 3.00 3.00 16.00**
Dull normal 15.00** 21.00** 15.00**
Average 8.00 4.50 2.00
Note: Values of Willcoxon signed rank test shows the significance of mean dif-
ference between cognitively loaded and affectively loaded conditions in each le-
vel of abstraction for each intellectual functioning group (N =30). **p < .01.
Among the different groups in all levels of abstractions of
both cognitively loaded (Figure 2) and affectively loaded sti-
mulus categories (Figure 3), the highest score is achieved by
average intellectual functioning group, followed by dull normal,
borderline, moderately retarded and mildly retarded intellectu-
ally functioning groups. Starting from mild intellectual func-
tioning, as the intellectual status increases, the span of attention
also increases gradually.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Figure 2.
Mean of attention span among the five intelligence groups in three
abstraction levels in cognitively loaded stimulus category.
Figure 3.
Mean of attention span among the five intelligence groups in three ab-
straction levels in cognitively loaded stimulus category.
Here the striking result is the moderately retarded group per-
forms better than mildly retarded intellectual functioning group
in case of measuring attention span.
By the behavioural observation from the part of the expe-
rimenter, it can be interpreted as the rote memory, which does
not demand semantic understanding, works well in moderately
retarded level of intellectual functioning and there was lesser
degree of distraction by the environmental stimuli in them, as
the interest to explore environment is less in moderately retar-
ded intellectual functioning. This is so because the demand to
discover the surroundings is not developed in this group. The
semantic network is not properly formed. So higher level cog-
nitive tasking is not met by them, only the rote memory is acti-
vated and along with it lesser level of distraction made the at-
tention span better than mildly retarded intellectual functioning.
This study was not intended to measure long term memory.
Other past literatures have noted that the inefficient rehearsal
strategies that interfere with long term memory (Brooks & Mc-
Cauley, 1984) and inability to transfer learned materials results
in deficits in learning and cognitive systems in mental retarda-
tion. The earlier researches in the area of short term memory
drew a somewhat confusing picture. Some research suggested
that the performance of children with mental retardation was no
different from that of non disabled individuals. Many metho-
dological limitations with this early memory research made in-
terpretation very difficult (Drew et al., 1996). The present study
has answered the question in a way that in moderately retarded
intellectual functioning, attention span or short term memory
span comes better than that of mildly retarded intellectual func-
tioning group for lower distraction and better rote memory from
the par. Here, with the relatively higher intellectual functioning
the need for exploring the environment is high. In mildly re-
tarded intellectual functioning group the attention span was so
less because they have developed the interest to know the sur-
rounding world. In spite of providing the same set of instruction
their behaviour and activity were interfered by distraction. The
behavioural observation says they were unable to focus their
attention. In higher intellectual functioning group the need to
know the environment is higher but cognitive capacity also de-
velops better. So, although they get distracted minimally by the
surroundings more efficient cognitive strategies prevent their
forgetting and facilitate recall of items that was previously at-
It is seen that for all the given groups of intellectual func-
tioning the mean of attention span is highest in concrete level,
intermediate in semiabstract level and least in abstract level
(Figures 2 and 3). So, more the stimulus is concrete, more is
the probability here to be attended well. This finding is consis-
tent with that of Craik & Massani (1969) who concluded with
the finding that concreteness has been shown to influence the
recall pattern of both young and old adults, although it is not
always clear whether the magnitude of this effect is develop-
mentally invariant. The differences among the means in all the
three levels of abstraction are significant at .05 level for some
groups (i.e. mildly retarded group and borderline intellectual
functioning group in case of cognitively loaded stimulus cate-
gory (Table 6) and moderately retarded intellectual functioning
group in case of affectively loaded stimulus category (Table 7).
Although with the increment in concretization level the atten-
tion span increases gradually, the difference between concrete
and abstract is consistently yielding better cognitive output and
is statistically significant. Statistical significance denotes the dif-
ference between concrete and abstract stimulus category much
high and statistically significant than that of between concrete
and semiabstract or between semiabstract and abstract stimulus.
So, if the abstract mode seems to be difficult in intellectually
impaired group then the instructor may go for concrete or se-
miabstract mode of instruction. If the concrete mode helps their
learning, then the next step is to go for the semiabstract mode
(as the difference between concrete and semiabstract level is
not statistically significant). After that instructor may move to
abstract set of learning material (as the difference between ab-
stract and semiabstract level is not statistically significant).
Thus semiabstract stimulus may be used as learning material
when the person has difficulty in acquiring abstract form of
stimulus in intellectually impaired group. Also as the transi-
tion between concrete and abstract is much harder, so a semiab-
stract level may often be introduced in between the two extreme
to smooth the ladder of transition. The result also shows that
this mean difference among the levels of abstraction is only
significant in groups having intellectual impairment but not in
average or dull normal intellectual functioning group in the
given level of difficulty. It means that the extent to which the
difference in abstraction level in stimulus sensitizes the cogni-
tion of persons having intellectual difficulty, it does not do so
for the two higher intellectual groups for the given difficulty
level. Thus concrete and semi abstract levels of stimulus or
learning materials may facilitate learning and cognition.
Comparing between the cognitively loaded and affectively
loaded stimulus category, it is seen that in all abstraction level
the former yields greater attention span although it is statisti-
cally significant at .05 level in the middle range of the contin-
uum of intellectual functioning. This result is consistent in con-
crete (Figure 4), semiabstract (Figure 5) and abstract (Figure 6)
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 417
Figure 4.
Mean of attention span of five different intelligence groups in cogni-
tively & affectively loaded stimuli in case of abstract stimuli.
Figure 5.
Mean of attention span of five different intelligence groups in cogni-
tively & affectively loaded stimuli in case of semiabstract stimuli.
Figure 6.
Mean of attention span of five different intelligence groups in cogni-
tively & affectively loaded stimuli in case of concrete stimuli.
stimulus category. The two extreme in this continuum is less
affected by the affective stimulation and this is because of pro-
bably two different reasons.
For average intellectual functioning group the difference is
not significant because the difficulty level in two different sti-
mulus categories was too easy for them and both have been
processed more or less similarly, although their performance is
slight better in cognitively loaded stimulus category. In average
intellectual functioning group this makes no statistically sig-
nificant difference because the average groups can overcome
the emotional clouding better by utilising different strategies by
a well formed executive functioning. According to Anderson
(2005) emotion modulates the attentional blink and impairs con-
current task performance in divided attention paradigms (Talmi
et al., 2007) and slows down font-colour naming in the stroop
task (Mackay et al., 2006). In this study the attention span is
interfered with the affection embedded in stimulus category.
For moderately retarded intellectual functioning group, it is
noted earlier also that the rote memory is unaffected by the
nature of stimulus. So, be it affective or cognitive, they proc-
essed more or less similarly for a brief period of time as the
semantic processing is weak in them.
But in the middle range of intellectual functioning the per-
formance is better in cognitive loaded stimulus category may be
because of the fact that the affective stimulation generates af-
fective processing and it interferes with the cognitive process-
ing which hinders cognitive performance or it is because of the
fact that the stimulus used in cognitive category is more famil-
iar to them. So, affective stimulation does not facilitate cogni-
tive performance. Many investigators have reported that people
with mental retardation have problem on emotion recognition
tasks (Moore et al., 2001). The present study corresponds with
this fact.
Overall analysis shows that the nature of stimulus contributes
much in cognitive functioning i.e. span of attention. Affective
component in stimulus material does not facilitate cognitive
processing, per se; it hinders the scores on attention span. Cog-
nitively loaded stimulus seemed to be beneficial for the scores
of attention span. The span of attention scores increase gradu-
ally as the intellectual status increases (from mild to average
intellectual functioning). Moderately retarded group performed
better than mildly retarded and for them the span of attention
score does not vary much with the variation in stimulus cate-
gory probably because of their problem in semantic processing
for the variation. For all the groups concrete stimuli yield better
attention span score but in case of intellectually impaired group
this concretization in stimulus material is significantly fruitful.
The result may be helpful to understand how the intellectual
ladder is affected by changing in stimulus category. Moreover,
the result gives an indication to design the study material for
specific group of intellectual functioning.
The present study shows how variation in nature of stimulus
affects the span of attention on various levels of intellectual
functioning. It arrives at the following conclusions: 1) Along
with the increment in levels of abstraction the attention span
tends to decrease in all level of intellectual functioning groups
ranging from moderately retarded intellectual functioning to
average intellectual functioning group; 2) Significant differ-
ences are seen in between concrete and abstract level in the
intellectually impaired groups, but no significant difference is
found in attention score between concrete and semiabstract or
between abstract and semiabstract; 3) Affective loading in
stimulus category does not enhance the span of attention, per se,
it inhibits the cognitive performance in all intellectual function-
ing groups; 4) The differences in performance in cognitive load-
ed and affective loaded stimulus categories are significant sta-
tistically in mild retardation, borderline and dull normal intel-
lectual functioning groups, i.e., the middle range of the contin-
uum; 5) The attention span of the moderately retarded intellec-
tual functioning group is not affected much by the nature of sti-
mulus category, probably because of better rote memory which
is unaffected by distraction. The results may help to design the
teaching tools and instruction mode for different intellectual
functioning groups, so that it can facilitate learning maximally.
The result is further helpful to see how the different intellectual
functioning groups react differently in same kind of stimulus
sets. So, while making the learning materials for specific groups,
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 419
the present finding would be helpful. Furthermore, the result of
the following study may initiate a number of different resear-
ches in the area of rote memory and affective stimulation across
the different intellectual functioning groups.
AC thanks to Indian Council of Medical Research for the fi-
nancial assistance. Sri Debabrata Biswas for academic guidance.
Sri Sumon Mukherjee for valuable suggestion.
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