When is forewarned forearmed? Predicting auditory distraction in short-term memory

Hughes, Robert W. and Marsh, John E. orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9494-1287 (2019) When is forewarned forearmed? Predicting auditory distraction in short-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition . ISSN 0278-7393

[thumbnail of Author Accepted Manuscript]
PDF (Author Accepted Manuscript) - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.


Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1037/xlm0000736


Two experiments critically examined a predictive-coding based account of the vulnerability of short-term memory to auditory distraction, particularly the disruptive effect of changing-state sound on verbal serial recall. Experiment 1 showed that providing participants with the opportunity to predict the contents of an imminent spoken distractor sentence via a forewarning reduced its particularly disruptive effect but only to the same level of disruption as that produced by ‘simpler’ changing-state sequences (a sequence of letter-names). Moreover, a post-categorically unpredictable changing-state sequence (e.g., “F, B, H, E …”) was no more disruptive than a post-categorically predictable sequence (“A, B, C, D …”). Experiment 2 showed that a sentence distractor was disruptive regardless of whether participants reported adopting a serial rehearsal strategy to perform the focal task (in this case, a missing-item task) whereas, critically, the disruptive effect of simpler changing-state sequences was only found in participants who reported using a serial rehearsal strategy. Moreover, when serial rehearsal was not used to perform the focal task, the disruptive effect of sentences was completely abolished by a forewarning. These results indicate that predictability plays no role in the classical changing-state irrelevant sound effect and that foreknowledge selectively attenuates a functionally distinct stimulus-specific attentional-diversion effect. As such, the results are at odds with a unitary, attentional, account of auditory distraction in short-term memory and instead strongly support a duplex-mechanism account.

Repository Staff Only: item control page