Classically, attentional selectivity has been conceptualized as a passive by-product of capacity limits on stimulus processing. Here, we examine the role of more active cognitive control processes in attentional selectivity, focusing on how distraction from task-irrelevant sound is modulated by levels of task engagement in a visually presented short-term memory task. Task engagement was varied by manipulating the load involved in the encoding of the (visually presented) to-be-remembered items. Using a list of Navon letters (where a large letter is composed of smaller, different-identity letters), participants were oriented to attend and serially recall the list of large letters (low encoding load) or to attend and serially recall the list of small letters (high encoding load). Attentional capture by a single deviant noise burst within a task-irrelevant tone sequence (the deviation effect) was eliminated under high encoding load (Experiment 1). However, distraction from a continuously changing sequence of tones (the changing-state effect) was immune to the influence of load (Experiment 2). This dissociation in the amenability of the deviation effect and the changing-state effect to cognitive control supports a duplex-mechanism over a unitary-mechanism account of auditory distraction in which the deviation effect is due to attentional capture whereas the changing-state effect reflects direct interference between the processing of the sound and processes involved in the focal task. That the changing-state effect survives high encoding load also goes against an alternative explanation of the attenuation of the deviation effect under high load in terms of the depletion of a limited perceptual resource that would result in diminished auditory processing.
- Jufo-taso 1