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Year : 2010  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 49  |  Page : 201--209

Auditory distraction and serial memory: The avoidable and the ineluctable

School of Psychology, Cardiff University, CF10 3AT, Cardiff, United Kingdom

Correspondence Address:
Dylan M Jones
School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Park Place, CF10 3AT, Cardiff
United Kingdom
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/1463-1741.70497

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One mental activity that is very vulnerable to auditory distraction is serial recall. This review of the contemporary findings relating to serial recall charts the key determinants of distraction. It is evident that there is one form of distraction that is a joint product of the cognitive characteristics of the task and of the obligatory cognitive processing of the sound. For sequences of sound, distraction appears to be an ineluctable product of similarity-of-process, specifically, the serial order processing of the visually presented items and the serial order coding that is the by-product of the streaming of the sound. However, recently emerging work shows that the distraction from a single sound (one deviating from a prevailing sequence) results in attentional capture and is qualitatively distinct from that of a sequence in being restricted in its action to encoding, not to rehearsal of list members. Capture is also sensitive to the sensory task load, suggesting that it is subject to top-down control and therefore avoidable. These two forms of distraction-conflict of process and attentional capture-may be two consequences of auditory perceptual organization processes that serve to strike the optimal balance between attentional selectivity and distractability.


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