Distractor interference in focused attention tasks is not mediated by attention capture

Nurit Gronau, Asher Cohen, Gershon Ben-Shakhar
Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: QJEP 2009, 62 (9): 1685-95
Distractor stimuli possessing information that is relevant for a task (henceforth, task-relevant distractors) often interfere with task performance. The interference by task-relevant distractors is observed even when distractors are positioned outside the main attentional focus. We investigated whether such interference is due to an attention capture by the distractors. Participants responded to a target colour while ignoring word distractors positioned within (Experiment 1) or outside (Experiments 2 and 3) the attentional focus. The words carried task-relevant information in their colour and personally significant information in their content. Because personally significant information affects performance only when positioned in an attended region, it was used as a marker for the locus of the attentional focus. As expected, when distractors were attended, both task-relevant and personally significant information affected performance. However, when distractors were unattended, only task-relevant information caused interference, suggesting that attention did not shift to the distractors' location. We discuss possible accounts for interference effects in focused-attention tasks.

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