Investigating the impact of top-down cognitive control on distracters: A behavioural and psychophysiological study

Kershaw, Matthew Brian Anthony (2019) Investigating the impact of top-down cognitive control on distracters: A behavioural and psychophysiological study. Masters thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

[thumbnail of Thesis Document] Microsoft Word (Thesis Document) - Submitted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.



Task-irrelevant auditory stimuli can break through selective attention and impair performance of visually based focal tasks. There is an active debate concerning whether the disruption to visual short-term memory produced by auditory sequences containing a series of changing-items (e.g., ‘mlkv’; the changing-state [CS] effect), or a deviant item vs. a sequence of steady-state items (e.g., “mmvm” vs. ‘mmmm’; the deviant effect) is underpinned by the same or qualitatively distinct mechanisms. The unitary account (e.g., Bell et al., 2012) proposes both forms are underpinned by attentional capture, but the duplex account (e.g., Hughes 2014) argues that the CS effect arises due to an interference-by-process. Modern research revealed manipulations of top-down cognitive control (e.g. foreknowledge provision) can provide a resounding distinction between the two forms of distraction (supporting the duplex account). However, foreknowledge provision has also been evidenced to reduce the disruption sentences (the “complex” CS effect; Bell et al., 2017); taken to support the unitary account. Furthermore, research employing psychophysiological methods have also shown that auditory deviants, but not simple changes in a sequence, trigger attentional capture - indexed by orienting responses (Marois et al., 2019). The present study seeks to combine behavioural and psychophysiological methods to further contribute to the unitary vs. duplex account debate. Participants undertook a set of tasks, a serial recall task in which foreknowledge or no foreknowledge of auditory sequences was provided, with behavioural (task performance) and physiological (heart-rate, pupillary response and skin conductivity) responses recorded. Behaviourally, whilst no deviation effect was apparent, evidence of dissociation between simple and complex-CS distracter was. Foreknowledge eliminated additional disruption from complex-CS distracters over their simple counterparts, thereby supporting sentential distracters elicit cognitively controllable attentional capture superimposing a simple-CS effect. Physiological data failed to provide this latter distinction, but evidence emerged for orienting responses to deviant distracters in skin conductivity and pupillary measures despite their ineffectiveness at the behavioural level. working memory capacity appeared unrelated to both behavioural and physiological responses. Implications of these results for the unitary and duplex accounts are discussed.

Repository Staff Only: item control page