Warning – Taboo Words Ahead! Avoiding Attentional Capture by Spoken Taboo Distractors

Laura Rettie, Robert Potter, Gayle Brewer, Federica Degno, Francois Vachon, R.W. Hughes, John Marsh

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We examine whether the disruption of serial short-term memory (STM) by spoken taboo distractors is due to attentional diversion and unrelated to the underlying disruptive effect of sound on serial STM more generally, which we have argued is due to order cues arising from the automatic pre-categorical processing of acoustic changes in the sound conflicting with serial–order processing within the memory task (interferenceby-process). We test whether the taboo-distractor effect is, unlike effects attributable
to interference-by-process, amenable to top-down control. Experiment 1 replicated the taboo-distractor effect and showed that it is not merely a valence effect. However, promoting cognitive control by increasing focal task-load did not attenuate the effect. However, foreknowledge of the distractors did eliminate the taboo-distractor effect while having no effect on disruption by neutral words (Experiment 2). We conclude that the taboo-distractor effect results from a controllable attentional-diversion
mechanism distinct from the effect of any acoustically-changing sound.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-77
JournalJournal of Cognitive Psychology
Issue number1
Early online date6 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 21 Mar 2024

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