Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Contrasting Effects of Changing Rhythm and Content on Auditory Distraction in Immediate Memory

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Contrasting Effects of Changing Rhythm and Content on Auditory Distraction in Immediate Memory

Article excerpt

Across 5 experiments, the temporal regularity and content of an irrelevant speech stream were varied and their effects on a serial recall task examined. Variations of the content, but not the rhythm, of the irrelevant speech stimuli reliably disrupted serial recall performance in all experiments. Bayesian analyses supported the null hypothesis over the hypothesis that irregular rhythms would disrupt memory to a greater extent than regular rhythms. Pooling the data in a combined analysis revealed that regular presentation of the irrelevant speech was significantly more disruptive to serial recall than irregular presentation. These results are consistent with the idea that auditory distraction is sensitive to both intraitem and interitem relations and challenge an orienting-based account of auditory distraction.

Keywords: serial memory, irrelevant speech effect, rhythm, auditory distraction


Dans les cinq expériences, la régularité temporelle et le contenu de sons aléatoires ont été variés et leurs effets, sur une tâche de rappel sériel, examinés. Les variations de contenu, contrairement aux variations de rythme, des stimuli de sons aléatoires ont significativement perturbé la performance des rappels sériels dans toutes les expériences. Les analyses bayésiennes soutiennent l'hypothèse nulle plutôt que l'hypothèse voulant que les rythmes irréguliers perturbent la mémoire davantage que les rythmes réguliers. Une analyse combinée regroupant plusieurs données a révélé qu'une présentation régulière de sons aléatoires avait un effet significativement plus perturbateur sur le rappel sériel qu'une présentation irrégulière. Ces résultats soutiennent l'idée que la distraction auditive est sensible aux relations intraitem et interitem et remettent en question l'hypothèse que la distraction auditive entraînerait une réaction d'orientation.

Mots-clés : Mémoire en série, effet de contenu sonore aléatoire, rythme, distraction auditive.

A number of key findings have historically been taken as indicators of the involvement of verbal short-term memory (STM) storage processes in a verbal serial recall task (a task in which participants encode, maintain, and recall the stimuli in their original order of presentation). These include the phonological similarity effect (i.e., lower recall for similar sounding to-be-remembered stimuli; Conrad, 1964), the word-length effect (i.e., lower recall for long compared with short to-be-remembered words; Baddeley, Thomson, & Buchanan, 1975), the articulatory suppression/concurrent articulation effect (i.e., reduction of recall performance when participants repeat an irrelevant utterance during the presentation and retention of the to-be-remembered stimuli; Murray, 1968), and the irrelevant speech/sound effect (i.e., reduction of serial recall performance when participants are exposed to a stream of irrelevant verbal stimuli while encoding and maintaining to-be-remembered stimuli; Colle & Welsh, 1976).1

These effects have all, in some way, informed the development of the concept of short-term or "working" memory (as reviewed by Baddeley, 1986), but all have also had some aspect of their initial interpretation called into question. The reduction in the phonological similarity effect, for example, or even its absence under some circumstances, rather than signalling the lack of phonological storage or rehearsal (e.g., Larsen & Baddeley, 2003) may be a consequence of scaling effects in the way it has been measured (Beaman, Neath, & Surprenant, 2008; Jarrold & Citroën, 2013; Jarrold & Hall, 2013). Similarly, the word-length effect has been shown to be responsive to lexical properties of short and long words, which covary with length (Jalbert, Neath, Bireta, & Surprenant, 2011), and alternative accounts have also been advanced for the concurrent articulation effects (Chein & Fiez, 2010; Nairne, 1990). Of all these immediate memory effects, however, possibly the one to provoke the most controversy is the irrelevant sound effect. …

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