Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Low Cognitive Load Strengthens Distractor Interference While High Load Attenuates When Cognitive Load and Distractor Possess Similar Visual Characteristics

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Low Cognitive Load Strengthens Distractor Interference While High Load Attenuates When Cognitive Load and Distractor Possess Similar Visual Characteristics

Article excerpt

Published online: 27 March 2015

# The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract Studies on visual cognitive load have reported consistent of distractor interference when distractors have visual characteristic that are similar to the cognitive load. Some studies have shown that the cognitive load enhances distractor interference, while others reported an attenuating effect. We attribute these inconsistencies to the amount of cognitive load that a person is required to maintain. Lower amounts of cognitive load increase distractor interference by orienting attention toward visually similar distractors. Higher amounts of cognitive load attenuate distractor interference by depleting attentional resources needed to process distractors. In the present study, cognitive load consisted of faces (Experiments 1-3) or scenes (Experiment 2). Participants performed a selective attention task in which they ignored face distractors while judging a color of a target dot presented nearby, under differing amounts of load. Across these experiments distractor interference was greater in the low-load condition and smaller in the high-load condition when the content of the cognitive load had similar visual characteristic to the distractors. We also found that when a series of judgments needed to be made, the effect was apparent for the first trial but not for the second. We further tested an involvement of working memory capacity (WMC) in the load effect (Experiment 3). Interestingly, both high and low WMC groups received an equivalent effect of the cognitive load in the first distractor, suggesting these effects are fairly automatic.

Keywords Selective attention . Attentional capture . Attention and executive control . Visual working memory

Selection of relevant, rather than distracting, information requires people to maintain processing priories that bias vision toward certain information and away from other information. It is classically assumed that requiring people to maintain taskirrelevant information (i.e., cognitive load) will deplete a domain-general resource. The effect of this depletion is to make people less likely to notice critical information and more likely to be drawn to distraction as a function of the load (e.g., Lavie, Hirst, de Fockert, & Viding, 2004). This domaingeneral assumption, however, does not always hold. In particular, we contrast two resource-specific perspectives: specialized load theory and memory-driven attention capture.

Specialized load theory (Park, Kim, & Chun, 2007; see also Kim, Kim, & Chun, 2005) proposes that the effect of cognitive load is resource-specific, rather than domain-general. For instance, if a person needs to make a same/different judgment on two faces while simultaneously maintaining faces in memory, performance on the judgment task will suffer due to resource competition. However, if a person needs to ignore faces while maintaining faces in memory, a same/ different judgment on other types of target information (e.g., houses) will be facilitated. This is because load is depleting T. resources that are critical to distractor processing, thus allowing efficient target selection to proceed.

Specialized load theory contrasts with the idea of memory-driven attention capture (Olivers, Meijer, & Theeuwes, 2006; Soto, Hodsoll, Rotshtein, & Humphreys, 2008;Soto& Humphreys, 2007). Memory-driven attention capture predicts that attention is biased toward the type of information that is maintained in working memory. For example, Olivers et al. (2006; Experiment 2) had participants perform a visual search task after they committed a color-item to memory. Critically, the visual search contained a distractor item that was either the same or a different color as the maintained color-item. Detection of the target was slowed when the distracter'scolor matched the color of the maintained item, relative to when there was a mismatch.

Methodological differences aside, these studies appear to contradict each other. …

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