Dynamic cognitive control of irrelevant sound: Increased task engagement attenuates semantic auditory distraction

John E Marsh, Patrik Sörqvist, Robert W Hughes

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Two experiments investigated reactive top-down cognitive control of the detrimental influence of spoken distractors semantically related to visually-presented words presented for free recall. Experiment 1 demonstrated that an increase in focal task-engagement—promoted experimentally by reducing the perceptual discriminability of the visual target-words—eliminated the disruption by such distracters of veridical recall and also attenuated the erroneous recall of the distracters. A recall instruction that eliminates the requirement for output-monitoring was used in Experiment 2 to investigate whether increased task-engagement shields against distraction through a change in output-monitoring processes (back-end control) or by affecting the processing of the distracters during their presentation (front-end control). Rates of erroneous distracter-recall were much greater than in Experiment 1 but both erroneous distracter-recall and the disruptive effect of distracters on veridical recall were still attenuated under reduced target-word discriminability. Taken together, the results show that task-engagement is under dynamic strategic control and can be modulated to shield against auditory distraction by attenuating distracter-processing at encoding thereby preventing distracters from coming to mind at test.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1462-1474
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2015

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