Determinants of Auditory Selective Attention

Sandra Murphy

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Research into selective attention has for the last 50 years predominantly been focused on the visual domain (Driver, 2001). The aim of this thesis is to take established principles of visual selective attention and investigate whether they determine auditory distractor processing.

Firstly, the applicability of load theory in the auditory domain was considered (e.g. Lavie, 1995). Over five experiments, using two different perceptual load manipulations, I failed to find any evidence for a role of perceptual load within hearing. Two experiments investigating the influence of WM availability on processing of irrelevant singleton distractors further demonstrated that load theory does not seem to hold within the auditory domain.

Secondly, I investigated whether reported differences in everyday distractibility would relate to laboratory task-measures of auditory distractor processing. Over three experiments, I demonstrated some evidence of a relationship between a measure of everyday distractibility and task performance, such that participants reporting to be more distractible made more errors in the presence (vs. absence) of a singleton distractor sound compared with those reporting to be less distractible.

Lastly, I considered the role of monetary rewards on the ability to selectively focus on a target presented alongside a competing nontarget. The behavioural results suggested an influence of monetary reward, while the EEG measure failed to find any modulation.

Taken together, these results have contributed to further the understanding of attentional selection within hearing, and how it might differ from vision. For example, it seems that auditory distractor processing might be less open to modulations than visual distractor processing (at least in the context of load theory). However, levels of distractor processing might differ between individuals depending on how distractible they are in everyday life. Furthermore, a strong motivation such as a monetary reward seems to have the ability to influence auditory attentional selection.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Dalton, Polly, Supervisor
Award date1 Feb 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 1 Feb 2014

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