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Universität Witten/Herdecke
Department of Psychology and Psychotherapy
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Skills and Expertise
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Universität Witten/Herdecke
Universität Witten/Herdecke
Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich
3M Company
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Bergische Universität Wuppertal
Universität Bern
Universität Witten/Herdecke
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
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Creative yet Inattentive? Investigating the Role of Attention in Creative Problem Solving
To examine the role of attentional processes in insightful and non-insightful problem solving.
In the Face of Distraction: Exploring the Role of Background Speech on Person Identification
This research project, in receipt of funds from the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust, aims to examine the impact of extraneous background noise (e.g., cell phone conversation) on encoding/memory for faces. Convergent methodologies - lineup tasks, standard recognition tasks and face construction - are used to evaluate the idea that to-be-ignored background speech impairs the encoding of complex visual information (configural/featural) that comprises a face. Research papers emanating from the research focus on both applied and theoretical issues.
Research Items (37)
Recently, it was demonstrated that heard sentences containing semantically unexpected words disrupt visual-verbal serial recall more than sentences containing semantically expected words. This semantic mismatch effect did not become smaller over the course of the experiment, contrary to what has been observed with other semantic effects. This surprising finding was critically examined in the present study. In Experiment 1, unspecific habituation was investigated using a classical design and a larger number of trials compared to the original study. In Experiment 2, unspecific and specific habituation were investigated by presenting sixteen different distractor sentences in one condition and the same sentences sixteen times in the other condition. In both experiments, there was no evidence of habituation of the semantic mismatch effect. In Experiment 2, overall performance was significantly better with repeated distractor sentences as compared to different sentences, but the semantic mismatch effect remained unchanged. The disruptive effect of semantic mismatches on serial recall seems to be relatively resistant to habituation, suggesting a stable mechanism that allows to detect, and to react to, potentially meaningful information in the unattended channel.
Effects of auditory distraction by task-irrelevant background speech on the immediate serial recall of verbal material are well established. Less is known about the influence of background speech on memory for visual configural information. A recent study demonstrated that face learning is disrupted by joyful music relative to soothing violin music and quiet. This pattern is parallel to findings in the serial-recall paradigm showing that auditory distraction is primarily caused by auditory changes. Here we connect these two streams of research by testing whether face learning is impaired by irrelevant speech. Participants learned faces either in quiet or while ignoring auditory changing-state sequences (sentential speech) or steady-state sequences (word repetitions). Face recognition was impaired by irrelevant speech relative to quiet. Furthermore, changing-state speech disrupted performance more than steady-state speech. The results were replicated in a second study using reversed speech, suggesting that the disruptive potential of the background speech does not depend on its semantic content. These findings thus demonstrate robust effects of auditory distraction on face learning. Theoretical explanations and applied implications are discussed.
A large body of evidence shows an animacy effect on memory in that animate entities are better remembered than inanimate ones. Yet, the reason for this mnemonic prioritization remains unclear. In the survival processing literature, the assumption that richness of encoding is responsible for adaptive memory benefits has received substantial empirical support. In the present study, we examined whether richness of encoding may be considered as a possible mechanism underlying the animacy effect as well. Specifically, we tested a prediction derived from the assumption that processing animate words results in a richer set of associations to other items in memory than processing inanimate words, which may provide participants with a larger set of retrieval cues at test. In Experiments 1 and 3 the animacy effect was replicated in an intentional learning paradigm with different sets of to-be-remembered animate and inanimate words. In Experiments 2 and 4, participants were asked to report any ideas coming to mind in response to these words at encoding. Participants were also asked to recall the words in a surprise recall test. The results showed a reliable animacy effect on free recall in all four experiments, that is, independently of whether encoding was intentional or incidental. Most importantly, the results of Experiments 2 and 4 show that participants spontaneously generated more ideas in response to animate words than in response to inanimate words. The findings suggest that richness of encoding should be further considered as a potential proximate mechanism of the animacy effect. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
The animacy effect refers to enhanced memory for animate over inanimate items. In two studies, we examined whether this memory advantage generalises to source memory. A multinomial processing tree model was used to disentangle item recognition, source memory, and guessing processes. In Study 1, animate and inanimate words were presented at different spatial locations on the screen. Animacy was associated with enhanced source memory for the spatial locations of the items. In Study 2, pseudowords were associated with animate and inanimate properties. Replicating previous results, the pseudowords were better remembered when they were associated with animate properties than when they were associated with inanimate properties. What is more, participants had enhanced source memory for the association between the pseudowords and the animate properties. The results strengthen the idea that animate items are associated with richer mnemonic representations than inanimate items.
Short-term memory of visually presented lists of items is disrupted by auditory distraction. The auditory deviant effect refers to the finding that a sequence in which a single auditory event deviates from all other auditory objects disrupts serial recall more than a sequence without such a deviant. The changing-state effect refers to the finding that auditory changing-state sequences with changes from one auditory distractor item to the next disrupt the immediate serial recall of verbal items more than steady-state sequences consisting of distractor repetitions. One purpose of the present study is to perform a preregistered replication of the auditory deviant effect as well as (for the purpose of comparison) the changing-state effect and to provide reference data sets for the auditory deviant effect and the changing-state effect in the benchmarks repository with a large sample of participants and trials. Both effects were robustly obtained over the course of two sessions in which participants were tested. We also explored the relationship between auditory distraction and personality, and found auditory distraction to be unrelated to extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism.
Much research on moral judgment is centered on moral dilemmas in which deontological perspectives (i.e., emphasizing rules, individual rights and duties) are in conflict with utilitarian judgements (i.e., following the greater good defined through consequences). A central finding of this field Greene et al. showed that psychological and situational factors (e.g., the intent of the agent, or physical contact between the agent and the victim) play an important role in people’s use of deontological versus utilitarian considerations when making moral decisions. As their study was conducted with US samples, our knowledge is limited concerning the universality of this effect, in general, and the impact of culture on the situational and psychological factors of moral judgments, in particular. Here, we empirically test the universality of deontological and utilitarian judgments by replicating Greene et al.’s experiments on a large (N = X,XXX) and diverse (WEIRD and non-WEIRD) sample across the world to explore the influence of culture on moral judgment. The relevance of this exploration to a broad range of policy-making problems is discussed.
Sound disrupts short-term retention in working memory even when the sound is completely irrelevant and has to be ignored. The dominant view in the literature is that this type of disruption is essentially limited to so-called changing-state distractor sequences with acoustic changes between successive distractor objects (e.g., "ABABABAB") and does not occur with so-called steady-state distractor sequences that are composed of a single repeated distractor object (e.g., "AAAAAAAA"). Here we show that this view can no longer be maintained. What is more, disruption by steady-state distractors is significantly reduced after preexposure to the distractor item, directly confirming a central assumption of attentional explanations of auditory distraction and parallel to what has been shown earlier for changing-state sounds. Taken together, the findings reported here are compatible with a graded attentional account of auditory disruption, and they are incompatible with the duplex-mechanism account. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved).
Sequences of auditory objects such as one-syllable words or brief sounds disrupt serial recall of visually presented targets even when the auditory objects are completely irrelevant for the task at hand. The token set size effect is a label for the claim that disruption increases only when moving from a 1-token distractor sequence (e.g., "AAAAAAAA") to a token set size of 2 (e.g., "ABABABAB") but remains constant when moving from a token set size of 2 to a larger token set size (e.g., "ABCABCAB" or "DAGCFBEH"). Here we show that this claim was incorrect and based on experiments with insufficient statistical power. With sufficient statistical power it can be shown that disruption increases not only when the distractor token set size increases from 1 to 2, but also when it increases from two to eight one-syllable words (Experiment 1) and brief instrumental sounds (Experiment 2). These findings have implications for theories of auditory distraction which differ in their predictions about whether the distractor-induced performance decrement should (a) only be determined by acoustic differences between immediately adjacent distractor tokens (duplex-mechanism account) or (b) gradually increase as a function of the variability in the distractor set (attentional account). The present data are inconsistent with the duplex-mechanism account and support the attentional account. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).
Short-term memory (STM) for serially presented visual items is disrupted by task-irrelevant, to-be-ignored speech. Five experiments investigated the extent to which irrelevant speech is processed semantically by contrasting the following two hypotheses: (1) semantic processing of irrelevant speech is limited and does not interfere with serial STM or (2) irrelevant speech is routinely processed semantically at an interlexical level to allow for the detection of stimuli that are of potential relevance for the individual. We tested these hypotheses by comparing the disruption of serial recall by distractor sentences with semantically expected endings to that of sentences with semantically unexpected endings. Sentences with unexpected endings consistently produced more disruption than sentences with expected endings. Phonologically expected, but semantically unexpected endings had the same effect, demonstrating that a semantic and not a phonological mismatch is responsible for the increased disruption. In all five experiments, the semantic mismatch effect was not reduced after repeated exposure to sentences with unexpected endings. The results suggest that (1) semantic processing occurs at the interlexical level of irrelevant speech, which requires the integration of words into the sentence context and (2) the semantic content of a distractor interferes with the maintenance of serial information in short-term-memory if it is unexpected.
Animate entities are often better remembered than inanimate ones. The proximal mechanisms under- lying this animacy effect on recall are unclear. In two experiments, we tested whether the animacy effect is due to emotional arousal. Experiment 1 revealed that translations of the animate words used in the pioneering study of Nairne et al. (2013) were perceived as being more arousing than translations of the inanimate words, suggesting that animacy might have been confounded with arousal in previ- ous studies. In Experiment 2, new word lists were created in which the animate and inanimate words were matched on arousal (amongst several other dimensions), and participants were required to re- produce the animate and inanimate words in a free recall task. There was a tendency towards better memory for arousing items, but robust animacy effects were obtained even though animate and inan- imate words were matched on arousal. Thus, while arousal may contribute to the animacy effect when it is not carefully controlled for, it cannot explain the memory advantage of animate items.
There is an ongoing debate about whether children have more problems ignoring auditory distractors than adults. This is an important empirical question with direct implications for theories making predictions about the development of selective attention. In two experiments, the disruptive effect of to-be-ignored speech on short-term memory performance of third graders, fourth graders, fifth graders, younger adults, and older adults was examined. Three auditory conditions were compared: (a) steady state sequences in which the same distractor was repeated, (b) changing state sequences in which different distractors were presented, and (c) auditory deviant sequences in which a deviant distractor was presented in a sequence of repeated distractors. According to the attentional resource view, children should exhibit larger disruption by changing and deviant sounds due to their poorer attentional control abilities compared with adults. The duplex-mechanism account proposes that the auditory deviant effect is under attentional control, whereas the changing state effect is not, and thus predicts that children should be more susceptible to auditory deviants than adults but equally disrupted by changing state sequences. According to the renewed view of age-related distraction, there should be no age differences in cross-modal auditory distraction because some of the irrelevant auditory information can be filtered out early in the processing stream. Children and adults were equally disrupted by changing and deviant speech sounds regardless of whether task difficulty was equated between age groups or not. These results are consistent with the renewed view of age-related distraction.
Dijksterhuis and van Knippenberg (1998) reported that participants primed with an intelligent category (“professor”) subsequently performed 13.1% better on a trivia test than participants primed with an unintelligent category (“soccer hooligans”). Two unpublished replications of this study by the original authors, designed to verify the appropriate testing procedures, observed a smaller difference between conditions (2-3%) as well as a gender difference: men showed the effect (9.3% and 7.6%) but women did not (0.3% and -0.3%). The procedure used in those replications served as the basis for this multi-lab Registered Replication Report (RRR). A total of 40 laboratories collected data for this project, with 23 laboratories meeting all inclusion criteria. Here we report the meta-analytic result of those 23 direct replications (total N = 4,493) of the updated version of the original study, examining the difference between priming with professor and hooligan on a 30-item general knowledge trivia task (a supplementary analysis reports results with all 40 labs, N = 6,454). We observed no overall difference in trivia performance between participants primed with professor and those primed with hooligan (0.14%) and no moderation by gender.
Four experiments tested conflicting predictions about which components of the serial-recall task are most sensitive to auditory distraction. Changing-state (Experiments 1a and 1b) and deviant distractor sounds (Experiments 2a and 2b) were presented in one of four different intervals of the serial-recall task: (1) during the first half of encoding, (2) during the second half of encoding, (3) during the first half of retention, or (4) during the second half of retention. According to the embedded-processes model, both types of distractors should interfere with the encoding and rehearsal of targets in the focus of attention. According to the duplex-mechanism account, changing-state distractors should interfere only with rehearsal, whereas deviant distractors should interfere only with encoding. Inconsistent with the latter view, changing-state and deviant distractor sounds interfered with both the encoding and the retention of the targets. Both types of auditory distraction were most pronounced during the second half of encoding when the increasing rehearsal demands had to be coordinated with the continuous updating of the rehearsal set. These findings suggest that the two types of distraction disrupt similar working memory mechanisms.
Task-irrelevant, to-be-ignored sound disrupts serial short-term memory for visually presented items compared to a quiet control condition. We tested whether disruption by changing state irrelevant sound is modulated by expectations about the degree to which distractors would disrupt serial recall performance. The participants' expectations were manipulated by providing the (bogus) information that the irrelevant sound would be either easy or difficult to ignore. In Experiment 1, piano melodies were used as auditory distractors. Participants who expected the degree of disruption to be low made more errors in serial recall than participants who expected the degree of disruption to be high, independent of whether distractors were present or not. Although expectation had no effect on the magnitude of disruption, participants in the easy-to-ignore group reported after the experiment that they were less disrupted by the irrelevant sound than participants in the difficult-to-ignore group. In Experiment 2, spoken texts were used as auditory distractors. Expectations about the degree of disruption did not affect serial recall performance. Moreover, the subjective and objective distraction by irrelevant speech was similar in the easy-to-ignore group and in the difficult-to-ignore group. Thus, while metacognitive beliefs about whether the auditory distractors would be easy or difficult to ignore can have an effect on task engagement and subjective distractibility ratings, they do not seem to have an effect on the actual degree to which the auditory distractors disrupt serial recall performance.
Deviant as well as changing auditory distractors interfere with short-term memory. According to the duplex model of auditory distraction, the deviation effect is caused by a shift of attention while the changing-state effect is due to obligatory order processing. This theory predicts that foreknowledge should reduce the deviation effect, but should have no effect on the changing-state effect. We compared the effect of foreknowledge on the two phenomena directly within the same experiment. In a pilot study, specific foreknowledge was impotent in reducing either the changing-state effect or the deviation effect, but it reduced disruption by sentential speech, suggesting that the effects of foreknowledge on auditory distraction may increase with the complexity of the stimulus material. Given the unexpected nature of this finding, we tested whether the same finding would be obtained in (a) a direct preregistered replication in Germany and (b) an additional replication with translated stimulus materials in Sweden.
It is well established that task-irrelevant, to-be-ignored speech adversely affects serial short-term memory (STM) for visually presented items compared with a quiet control condition. However, there is an ongoing debate about whether the semantic content of the speech has the capacity to capture attention and to disrupt memory performance. In the present article, we tested whether taboo words are more difficult to ignore than neutral words. Taboo words or neutral words were presented as (a) steady state sequences in which the same distractor word was repeated, (b) changing state sequences in which different distractor words were presented, and (c) auditory deviant sequences in which a single distractor word deviated from a sequence of repeated words. Experiments 1 and 2 showed that taboo words disrupted performance more than neutral words. This taboo effect did not habituate and it did not differ between individuals with high and low working memory capacity. In Experiments 3 and 4, in which only a single deviant taboo word was presented, no taboo effect was obtained. These results do not support the idea that the processing of the auditory distractors' semantic content is the result of occasional attention switches to the auditory modality. Instead, the overall pattern of results is more in line with a functional view of auditory distraction, according to which the to-be-ignored modality is routinely monitored for potentially important stimuli (e.g., self-relevant or threatening information), the detection of which draws processing resources away from the primary task. (PsycINFO Database Record
To-be-ignored, task-irrelevant speech disrupts serial recall performance relative to a quiet control condition. In most studies, the content of the auditory distractors had no effect on their disruptive potential, one's own name being one of the few exceptions. There are two possible explanations of this pattern: (1) Semantic features of the irrelevant speech are usually not processed, except for highly relevant auditory distractors, or (2) semantic processing of the irrelevant speech always occurs, but usually does not affect serial recall performance. To test these explanations, we presented to-be-ignored auditory distractor words drawn from different categories while participants memorized visual targets for serial recall. Afterwards, participants were invited to what they believed to be an unrelated norming study, in which they were required to spontaneously produce words from the categories from which the auditory distractor words were drawn. Previously ignored words were produced with a higher probability than words from a parallel, nonpresented set, demonstrating that features of to-be-ignored, task-irrelevant speech that do not interfere with immediate serial recall performance are nevertheless processed semantically and may have substantial effects on subsequent behavior.
The present study was designed to examine age-related differences in the disruption of short- term memory by changing and deviant speech sounds. One hundred and twenty-eight old and 130 young adults performed a serial recall task while ignoring (1) steady state sequences in which the same distractor word was repeated twelve times, (2) auditory deviant sequences in which the ninth distractor word deviated from the otherwise repetitive context, and (3) changing state sequences in which twelve different distractor words were presented. According to inhibitory deficit theory, older adults should generally be more susceptible to auditory distraction. The duplex-mechanism account of auditory distraction is based on the idea that the changing state effect and the auditory deviant effect are functionally different. It suggests that older adults should be more impaired by auditory deviants than younger adults, but equally able to ignore changing state sequences. The age-invariant distractibility account predicts no age differences in auditory distraction, which was confirmed by the present results. Old adults performed worse than young adults in the serial recall task. In both age groups, however, the changing state effect (i.e., increased disruption by changing state se- quences relative to steady state sequences) and the auditory deviant effect (i.e., increased disruption by auditory deviant sequences relative to steady state sequences) were equivalent. These effects were also unrelated to individual differences in working memory capacity.
Purpose: To investigate the potential susceptibility of eyewitness memory to the presence of extraneous background speech that comprises a description consistent with, or at odds with, a target face. Design/methodology/approach: A between-participants design was deployed whereby participants viewed an unfamiliar target face either in the presence of quiet, extraneous to-be-ignored speech that comprised a verbal description that was congruent with the target face or to-be-ignored speech that comprised a verbal description that was incongruent with that face. After a short distractor task, participants were asked to describe the target face and to construct a composite of the face using PRO-fit software. Further participants rated the likeness of the composites to the target. Findings: Recall of correct facial descriptors was facilitated by congruent to-be-ignored speech and inhibited by incongruent to-be-ignored speech as compared to quiet. Moreover, incorrect facial descriptors were reported more often in the incongruent speech condition as compared with the congruent speech and quiet conditions. Composites constructed after exposure to incongruent speech were rated as poorer likenesses to the target than those created after exposure to congruent speech and quiet. Whether congruent speech facilitated or impaired composite construction was found to depend on the distinctiveness of the target face. Practical implications: The results suggest that the nature of to-be-ignored background speech has powerful effects on the accuracy of information that is verbally reported from having witnessed a face. Incongruent speech appears to disrupt the recognition processes that underpin face construction while congruent speech may have facilitative or detrimental effects on this process, depending on the distinctiveness of the target face. Originality/Value: This is one of the first studies to demonstrate that extraneous speech can produce adverse effects on the recall and recognition of complex visual information: in this case the appearance of a human face. Keywords Eyewitness memory, auditory distraction, composites.
In a series of experiments, it was tested whether distraction by changing-state irrelevant speech is inevitable or can be modulated by foreknowledge of an imminent to-be-ignored distractor sequence. Participants were required to remember visually presented digits while ignoring background speech. In the foreknowledge condition of Experiment 1, the upcoming to-be-ignored sentence was presented auditorily and visually before each trial. With specific foreknowledge, the changing-state irrelevant sound effect (here, increased disruption by sentences compared with repeated words) was significantly attenuated relative to a condition without foreknowledge. This finding was replicated in Experiment 2, in which the information about the upcoming auditory distractor speech was presented only in the visual modality. Experiment 3 showed that only specific foreknowledge of the auditory distractor material has beneficial effects on the ability to ignore distraction. The mere notification that an unspecified distractor sentence would be presented next had no effect on distraction. In Experiment 4, there was only a small and not statistically significant reduction of the irrelevant speech effect when lists of randomly selected words were used as distractor material, suggesting that foreknowledge effects are more pronounced for highly variable, meaningful distractor material. We conclude that the disruption of short-term memory by irrelevant speech is not purely a stimulus-driven process that is immune to top-down control. A significant proportion of the effect can be modulated by specific knowledge about an imminent distractor sequence. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
Rating the relevance of words for the imagined situation of being stranded in the grasslands without survival material leads to exceptionally good memory for these words. This survival processing effect has received much attention because it promises to elucidate the evolutionary foundations of memory. However, the proximate mechanisms of the survival processing effect have to be identified before informed speculations about its adaptive function are possible. Here, we test and contrast 2 promising accounts of the survival processing effect. According to the 1st account, the effect is the consequence of the prioritized processing of threat-related information. According to the 2nd account, thinking about the relevance of items for survival stimulates thinking about object function, which is a particularly elaborate form of encoding. Experiment 1 showed that the emotional properties of the survival scenario, as manipulated by the negative or positive framing of the scenario, did not influence recall. A focus on threat at encoding led to worse recall than a focus on function. The latter finding was replicated in Experiment 2, which further showed that focusing on threat did not lead to a memory advantage over a pleasantness control condition. The beneficial effect of inducing a functional focus at encoding even surpasses that of the standard survival processing instruction. Together, the results support the theory that thinking about function is an important component of the survival processing effect. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).
Ringtones are designed to draw attention away from on-going activities. In the present study, it was investigated whether the disruptive effects of a ringing cell phone on short-term memory are inevitable or become smaller as a function of exposure and whether (self-) relevance plays a role. Participants performed a serial recall task either in silence or while task-irrelevant ringtones were presented. Performance was worse when a ringing phone had to be ignored, but gradually recovered compared with the quiet control condition with repeated presentation of the distractor sound. Whether the participant's own ringtone was played or that of a yoked-control partner did not affect performance and habituation rate. The results offer insight into auditory distraction by highly attention-demanding distractors and recovery therefrom. Implications for work environments and other applied settings are discussed.
Two experiments examined the role of predictability within the elements of a task-irrelevant auditory sequence on the disruption produced to visual-verbal serial recall. Experiment 1 showed that participants did not benefit from having a long-term representation of the irrelevant sequence: A highly predictable, canonical sequence ("1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9") produced as much disruption as a repeated random sequence (which was the same on each trial) and an unpredictable, random sequence (which differed on each trial), as compared with quiet. In line with this finding, there was also no difference between a predictable canonical and an unpredictable random sequence in Experiment 2. However, a deviant within the predictable, canonical sequence ("1 2 3 4 5 5 7 8 9") produced greater disruption than a deviant within an unpredictable, random sequence ("4 8 2 9 5 5 7 3 1"). This effect was confined to early trials within the block. The results showed that long-term knowledge about the order of the individual elements in the sequence did not help attenuate the effect of auditory distraction on serial recall. Nevertheless, attentional capture was amplified when a deviant violated a well-known, canonical sequence, providing evidence that the neural model represents postcategorical sequential information. © 2014 The Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Wiley Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.
Both the acoustic variability of a distractor sequence and the degree to which it violates expectations are important determinants of auditory distraction. In four experiments we examined the relative contribution of local auditory changes on the one hand and expectation violations on the other hand in the disruption of serial recall by irrelevant sound. We present evidence for a greater disruption by auditory sequences ending in unexpected steady state distractor repetitions compared to auditory sequences with expected changing state endings even though the former contained fewer local changes. This effect was demonstrated with piano melodies (Experiment 1) and speech distractors (Experiment 2). Furthermore, it was replicated when the expectation violation occurred after the encoding of the target items (Experiment 3), indicating that the items' maintenance in short-term memory was disrupted by attentional capture and not their encoding. This seems to be primarily due to the violation of a model of the specific auditory distractor sequences because the effect vanishes and even reverses when the experiment provides no opportunity to build up a specific neural model about the distractor sequence (Experiment 4). Nevertheless, the violation of abstract long-term knowledge about auditory regularities seems to cause a small and transient capture effect: Disruption decreased markedly over the course of the experiments indicating that participants habituated to the unexpected distractor repetitions across trials. The overall pattern of results adds to the growing literature that the degree to which auditory distractors violate situation-specific expectations is a more important determinant of auditory distraction than the degree to which a distractor sequence contains local auditory changes.
Abstract: The survival-processing effect describes the recall advantage for words in a surprise memory test, which have been rated according to their relevance for a survival scenario. Although this advantage has been demonstrated relative to a number of control conditions that are usually associated with good memory (e.g., rating the words according to their pleasantness), the underlying cognitive mechanisms are still at debate. In three experiments we tested a short-term memory account of the survival-processing advantage. For this purpose, participants had to perform the rating tasks during irrelevant speech, which has been verified to impair short-term memory significantly. Consonant with this irrelevant sound effect, the survival-processing advantage disappeared during irrelevant narration (Exp. 1). Yet, the recall advantage persisted during artificial speech conditions with a monotonic temporal-structure (Exp. 2) or when irrelevant narration was restricted to the rating task while the surprise memory test was performed during silence (Exp. 3). Against the backdrop of the typical short-term memory impairment in the latter two sound conditions—and the lack thereof on the survival-processing effect in Experiments 2 and 3—our data speaks not in favor of enhanced short-term memory involvement evoking the surviving-processing advantage. Alternative explanations will be discussed.
Memory performance is severely disrupted when task-irrelevant sound is played during item presentation or in a retention interval. Working memory models make contrasting assumptions on whether the semantic content of the auditory distractors modulates the irrelevant sound effect. In the present study, participants made more errors in serial recall when they had to ignore sentences containing their own name as opposed to that of a yoked-control partner. These results are only consistent with working memory models that allow for attentional processes to play a role in the explanation of the irrelevant sound effect. With repeated presentation the disruptive effect of one's own name decreased, whereas the disruptive effect of the auditory distractors in the control condition remained constant. The latter finding is most consistent with the duplex model of auditory attention, which assumes that the irrelevant sound effect is primarily caused by automatic interference of acoustic distractor features, but at the same time allows for a disruption of encoding due to attentional capture by unexpected deviants. However, to explain the present results, the mechanism responsible for the attentional capture has to be extended to highly (self-)relevant auditory distractors.
Working memory theories make opposing predictions as to whether the disruptive effect of task-irrelevant sound on serial recall should be attenuated after repeated exposure to the auditory distractors. Although evidence of habituation has emerged after a passive listening phase, previous attempts to observe habituation to to-be ignored distractors on a trial-by-trial basis have proven to be fruitless. With the present study, we suggest that habituation to auditory distractors occurs, but has often been overlooked because past attempts to measure habituation in the irrelevant-sound paradigm were not sensitive enough. In a series of four experiments, the disruptive effects of to-be-ignored speech and music relative to a quiet control condition were markedly reduced after eight repetitions, regardless of whether trials were presented in blocks (Exp. 1) or in a random order (Exp. 2). The auditory distractor's playback direction (forward, backward) had no effect (Exp. 3). The same results were obtained when the auditory distractors were only presented in a retention interval after the presentation of the to-be-remembered items (Exp. 4). This pattern is only consistent with theoretical accounts that allow for attentional processes to interfere with the maintenance of information in working memory.
The present study examines the effects of irrelevant speech on immediate memory. Previous research led to the suggestion that auditory distractors particularly impair memory for serial order. These findings were explained by assuming that irrelevant speech disrupts the formation and maintenance of links between adjacent items in a to-be-remembered sequence, resulting in a loss of order information. Here we propose a more general explanation of these findings by claiming that the capacity to form and maintain item-context bindings is generally impaired by the presence of auditory distractors. The results of Experiment 1 show that memory for the association between an item and its background color is drastically impaired by irrelevant speech, just as memory for the association between an item and its serial position. In Experiment 2 it was examined whether the disrupting effects of irrelevant sound are limited to memory for item-context associations or whether item memory is also affected by the auditory distractors. The results revealed that irrelevant speech disrupts both item memory and item-context binding. The results suggest that the effects of irrelevant sound on immediate memory are more general than previously assumed, which has important theoretical and applied implications.
Recent research has highlighted the adaptive function of memory by showing that imagining being stranded in the grasslands without any survival material and rating words according to their survival value in this situation leads to exceptionally good memory for these words. Studies examining the role of emotions in causing the survival-processing memory advantage have been inconclusive, but some studies have suggested that the effect might be due to negativity or mortality salience. In Experiments 1 and 2, we compared the survival scenario to a control scenario that implied imagining a hopeless situation (floating in outer space with dwindling oxygen supplies) in which only suicide can avoid the agony of choking to death. Although this scenario was perceived as being more negative than the survival scenario, the survival-processing memory advantage persisted. In Experiment 3, thinking about the relevance of words for survival led to better memory for these words than did thinking about the relevance of words for death. This survival advantage was found for concrete, but not for abstract, words. The latter finding is consistent with the assumption that the survival instructions encourage participants to think about many different potential uses of items to aid survival, which may be a particularly efficient form of elaborate encoding. Together, the results suggest that thinking about death is much less effective in promoting recall than is thinking about survival. Therefore, the survival-processing memory advantage cannot be satisfactorily explained by negativity or mortality salience.
Memory for words rated according to their relevance in a grassland survival context is exceptionally good. According to Nairne, Thompson, and Pandeirada's (2007) evolutionary-based explanation, natural selection processes have tuned the human memory system to prioritize the processing of fitness-relevant information. The survival-processing memory advantage has been replicated numerous times, but very little is known about the proximate mechanisms behind it. The richness-of-encoding hypothesis (Kroneisen & Erdfelder, 2011) implies that rating the usefulness of items in a survival context leads to the generation of a large number of ideas that may be used as retrieval cues at test to boost recall. In Experiment 1, the typical survival-processing recall advantage was obtained when words were rated according to their usefulness in 1 of 3 fictional contexts. In Experiment 2, participants were asked to write down any ideas that came to mind when thinking about the usefulness of the words. Consistent with the richness-of-encoding hypothesis, participants generated more ideas in the survival condition than in the fitness-irrelevant control conditions. In Experiment 3, participants generated more ideas for congruent than for incongruent words, demonstrating that the richness-of-encoding hypothesis can also account for the previously obtained congruency effect on recall (Butler, Kang, & Roediger, 2009). In both experiments the number of ideas written down predicted future recall performance well. Our results provide further evidence for the assumption that richness of encoding is an important proximate mechanism involved in memory performance in the survival-processing paradigm. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).
Immediate serial recall is seriously disrupted by to-be-ignored sound. According to the embedded-processes model, auditory distractors elicit attentional orienting that draws processing resources away from the recall task. The model predicts that interference should be attenuated after repeated exposure to the auditory distractors. Previous failures to observe evidence for habituation can be explained by assuming that habituation to complex distractor features depends on the availability of working memory resources. Here we demonstrate that the irrelevant sound effect is attenuated after passive listening to the auditory distractors during a preexposure phase prior to the serial recall task. Experiment 1 shows that the irrelevant sound effect is abolished after 20 min of passive listening to the distractor speech. Experiments 2-4 show that irrelevant sound interference is significantly reduced after listening to distractors for 45 s. As predicted by the habituation hypothesis, an attenuation of interference occurs only when the distractor material matches the material played in the preexposure phase (Experiment 5). The results support an attentional conceptualization of the irrelevant sound effect. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved).
A series of experiments explored habituation and dishabituation to repeated auditory distractors. Participants memorised lists of visually presented items in silence or while ignoring continuously presented auditory distractors. No habituation could be observed, in that the size of the auditory distractor effect did not decrease during the experiment. However, there was evidence for attentional orienting when novel auditory material was presented after a long period of repetitive stimulation, in that a change of distractors was associated with a temporary decrease in recall performance. The results are most consistent with theoretical accounts that claim that the auditory distractor effect is caused primarily by automatic interference, but that still allow attention to play a limited role in the short-term maintenance of information.
Two experiments examine the effect of regular feedback on the appearance of the word-length and the irrelevant sound effects in immediate memory. A reliable effect of learning was observed but both effects persisted across multiple learning trials, contrary to suggestions that they could be diminished either by feedback-inspired strategy change or by dual-task learning. Learning improved performance most noticeably at the end of the serial position curve but there was no sign that the irrelevant speech eliminated the word-length effect at any stage of learning, consistent with Tremblay et al. (2000) but inconsistent with Neath et al. (1998). Implications for immediate memory effects, and for models of intra-individual variation in immediate memory, are considered.