Perception and Psychophysics
Using a response competition paradigm, we investigated the ability to ignore target response-compatible, target response-incompatible, and neutral visual and auditory distractors presented during a visual search task. The perceptual load model of attention (e.g., Lavie & Tsal, 1994) states that task-relevant processing load determines irrelevant distractor processing in such a way that increasing processing load prevents distractor processing. In three experiments, participants searched sets of one (easy search) or six (hard search) similar items. In Experiment 1, visual distractors influenced reaction time (RT) and accuracy only for easy searches, following the perceptual load model. Surprisingly, auditory distractors yielded larger distractor compatibility effects (median RT for incompatible trials minus median RT for compatible trials) for hard searches than for easy searches. In Experiments 2 and 3, during hard searches, consistent RT benefits with response-compatible and RT costs with response-incompatible auditory distractors occurred only for hard searches. We suggest that auditory distractors are processed regardless of visual perceptual load but that the ability to inhibit cross-modal influence from auditory distractors is reduced under high visual load.
Tellinghuisen, Donald J. and Nowak, Erin J., "The inability to ignore auditory distractors as a function of visual task perceptual load" (2003). University Faculty Publications. 539.