Recent Experiments in Psychology

By Leland W. Crafts; Theodore C. Schneirla et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
THE EFFECT OF DISTRACTION UPON THE PERFORMANCE OF CERTAIN TASKS

INTRODUCTION

Of considerable practical importance are problems relating to the influence of distracting stimuli upon "mental" work and upon attentive attitudes or "mental sets" involved in the performance of tasks. Of especial interest is the problem of the effect upon such processes of auditory distractions, since noises are the most common and the most disturbing annoyances for most people. As Morgan1 states,

We know that in the reading of a particularly interesting book we can become entirely oblivious to everything about us, even severe noises. But not one of us will seek a particularly noisy place to take our reading, no matter how interesting it may be. When we enter a reading room we are confronted by the sign "Silence!" If we have some hard mental task, noise becomes really distasteful to us. It is then an important problem to determine just what effect a situation replete with irrelevant noises may have upon our performance. If it is merely a foolish fancy with which we are obsessed when we desire quiet, it is well that we know it. If noise is a hindrance, can it be overcome? If so, at what cost? These and many other questions are worthy of solution.

Perhaps some of these "many other questions" are the following: Does the effect of "distracting" noise depend upon what we are doing, e.g., the complexity of the tasks, whether much or little in the way of thinking may be involved? Is the radio generally a help or a hindrance to study; or does its effect perhaps depend upon what the radio is playing at the time or upon the nature of the material which is being learned?

Many attempts have been made to determine experimentally the effect of noises upon the performance of various tasks. However, much of the earlier work in this field is open to criticism on several scores. For example, many of the tasks set for the subjects involved

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1
Morgan J. J. B. The Overcoming of Distraction and Other Resistances. Archives of Psychology, 1916, No. 35, p. 2.

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