Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Load-Induced Inattentional Deafness

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Load-Induced Inattentional Deafness

Article excerpt

Published online: 7 October 2014

© The Author(s) 2014. This article is published with open access at Springerlink.com

Abstract High perceptual load in a task is known to reduce the visual perception of unattended items (e.g., Lavie, Beck, & Konstantinou, 2014). However, it remains an open question whether perceptual load in one modality (e.g., vision) can affect the detection of stimuli in another modality (e.g., hearing). We report four experiments that establish that high visual perceptual load leads to reduced detection sensitivity in hearing. Participants were requested to detect a tone that was presented during performance of a visual search task of either low or high perceptual load (varied through item similarity). The findings revealed that auditory detection sensitivity was consistently reduced with higher load, and that this effect persisted even when the auditory detection response was made first (before the search response) and when the auditory stimulus was highly expected (50 % present). These findings demonstrate a phenomenon of load-induced deafness and provide evidence for shared attentional capacity across vision and hearing.

Keywords Divided attention . Inattention . Multisensory processing . Visual awareness . Perceptual load

Capacity limits on visual perception result in reduced visual detection ability in tasks involving high levels of visual perceptual load. Indeed, a range of inattentional blindness phenomena have been reported in task conditions of high perceptual load (e.g., Cartwright-Finch & Lavie, 2007; Jenkins, Lavie, & Driver, 2005 ; see Lavie, Beck, & Konstantinou, 2014 for a recent review; Lavie, Lin, Zokaei, & Thoma, 2009; Simons & Chabris, 1999). The original inattentional blindness paradigm (Mack & Rock, 1998) and many follow-up studies using it have measured subjective awareness reports ("noticed," "did not notice") with a surprise question at the very end of the experiment about an unexpected additional stimulus that was presented only once. Findings of inattentional blindness in studies using this procedure remain open to alternative accounts in terms of memory failures or intention rather than attention (Braun & Sagi, 1990; Wolfe, 1999). Importantly, inattentional blindness has also been demonstrated in conditions of high perceptual load in tasks that measure detection sensitivity for an expected stimulus that participants are instructed to detect (Carmel, Saker, Rees, & Lavie, 2007; Carmel, Thome, Rees, & Lavie, 2011; Macdonald & Lavie, 2008). Together, all of these studies provide a convincing body of evidence for the effects of visual perceptual load on visual awareness; however, the cross-modal effects of perceptual load in vision on the awareness of an auditory stimulus remain as yet unclear. Understanding the effects of visual attention on hearing is important, both for a full multisensory model of attention and for daily-life applications. Although turning a "deaf ear" to the outside world when preoccupied with a visually loaded task may be advantageous at times (since it helps to focus attention on the task), there are of course situations in which this deafness is undesirable. For example, even in the most routine daily-life task of walking on the street, it is often vital that people not be deaf to the sound of people or vehicles approaching, despite the frequent engagement in various sources of visually loaded information (e.g., smartphones or shop windows). Previous studies on the effects of attention on auditory detection have typically varied the level of auditory perceptual load (e.g., Alain & Izenberg, 2003; Chait, Ruff, Griffiths, & McAlpine, 2012; Francis, 2010; Murphy, Fraenkel, & Dalton, 2013). However, the cross-modal effects of visual perceptual load on auditory perception have not been as widely explored, and the findings of the few existing studies have been mixed. A recent study by Parks, Hilimire, and Corballi (2011) examined the effect of visual perceptual load on neural responses to taskirrelevant auditory stimuli using steady-state evoked potentials. …

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