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Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics


Mixed results have been found for the impact of auditory information presented during high-perceptual-load visual search tasks, with some studies showing large effects and others indicating inattentional deafness, with such stimuli going largely undetected. In three experiments, we demonstrated that task relatedness is a key factor in whether extraneous auditory stimuli impact high-load visual searches. Experiment 1 addressed a methodological concern (e.g., Lavie Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 75–82, 2005) regarding the timing of the relative onsets and offsets of task-related, to-be-ignored auditory stimuli and visual search arrays in experiments that have shown auditory distractor effects. Robust auditory distractor effects were found in each timing condition, and no inattentional deafness for high-load searches. Experiments 2 and 3 demonstrated that the relationship between the auditory stimuli and visual targets determined whether attention was captured and whether the response times to identify targets were impacted. Auditory stimuli that named a response-specific category influenced responses to targets mapped exclusively to one response, but not to the same targets mapped nonexclusively. These compatibility effects were larger if the distractors named an actual target item than if they named the category to which the item belonged. This pattern suggests that to-be-ignored auditory information that closely relates to a visual target search task influences the processing of that task, particularly in a high-perceptual-load search.

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