Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Goal-Relevant Events Need Not Be Rare to Boost Memory for Concurrent Images

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Goal-Relevant Events Need Not Be Rare to Boost Memory for Concurrent Images

Article excerpt

Published online: 20 October 2011

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2011

Abstract In the attentional boost effect, memory for images presented at the same time as unrelated targets (e.g., an orange square) is enhanced relative to images presented at the same time as distractors (e.g., a blue square). One difficulty in understanding the nature of this enhancement is that, in most experiments demonstrating the attentional boost effect, targets have been less common than distractors. As a result, the memory enhancement associated with target detection may have been driven by differences in the relative frequencies of targets and distractors. In four experiments, participants encoded images into memory at the same time that they monitored a second, unrelated stimulus stream for targets. In some conditions, targets were as common as distractors (1:1 ratio); in others, targets were rare (1:6 ratio). The attentional boost effect was present when the target and distractor frequencies were equated, ruling out oddball and distinctiveness effects as explanations. These effects were observed when targets required a buttonpress and when they were covertly counted. Memory enhancements were not observed for images presented at the same time as rare distractor stimuli. We concluded that selectively attending to events that require an overt or covert response enhances the processing of concurrent information.

Keywords Attention . Long-term memory . Dual-task processing . Attentional boost effect

The modern world is full of situations in which it is necessary to divide attention across multiple sources of information and to perform more than one task at once, often over long periods of time. The attentional demands of such tasks are likely to vary over time, both as a result of changes in task difficulty and in response to the need to selectively attend to a particular object. Decades of work on dual-task performance and selective attention has provided clear and robust evidence that dividing attention across multiple tasks and stimuli impairs performance (Kahneman, 1973; Kinchla, 1992; Pashler, 1994), and that selective attention to one object often temporarily interferes with the ability to process other objects (Duncan, 1980; Dux & Marois, 2009; Raymond, Shapiro, & Arnell, 1992).

However, an increasing number of reports have suggested that the relationship between selective attention and dual-task performance may not simply be one of give and take. In one set of studies, participants were asked to encode a series of briefly presented images into memory. At the same time, they performed a target detection task on a second stimulus stream (e.g., searching for a white square in a stream of black squares; Swallow & Jiang, 2010). Some images were presented at the same time as targets, and other images were presented at the same time as distractors. This task required participants to divide attention across two tasks and required greater attention when a target appeared for the detection task (Duncan, 1980; Swallow & Jiang, 2010; Wolfe, Butcher, Lee, & Hyle, 2003). As a result, interference should have been greatest for those images that were presented at the same time as the target in the second stimulus stream. However, the opposite pattern was observed: Images that were presented at the same time as a target were recognized better than images presented at the same time as a distractor. This finding has been replicated with a variety of encoding and detection stimuli (Swallow & Jiang, 2010). It has been observed in measures of long-term memory, source memory, and short-term memory (Lin, Pype, Murray, & Boynton, 2010; Makovski, Swallow, & Jiang, 2011; Swallow & Jiang, 2010, 2011). Because these data suggest that increasing attention to the detection task when a target appears boosts performance on the second encoding task, this phenomenon has been referred to as the attentional boost effect (Swallow & Jiang, 2010). …

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