Auditory Distraction During Reading: Investigating the Effects of Background Sounds on Parafoveal Processing

Rettie, Laura orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-9758-0416, Marsh, John Everett orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9494-1287, Liversedge, Simon Paul orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-8579-8546, Wang, Mengsi and Degno, Federica orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-9621-9968 (2024) Auditory Distraction During Reading: Investigating the Effects of Background Sounds on Parafoveal Processing. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology . ISSN 1747-0218

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Previous research suggests that unexpected (deviant) sounds negatively affect reading performance by inhibiting saccadic planning, which models of reading agree takes place simultaneous to parafoveal processing. The present study examined the effect of deviant sounds on foveal and parafoveal processing. Participants read single sentences in quiet, standard (repeated sounds), or deviant sound conditions (a new sound within a repeated sound sequence). Sounds were presented with a variable delay coincident with the onset of fixations on target words during a period when saccadic programming and parafoveal processing occurred. We used the moving window paradigm (McConkie & Rayner, 1975) to manipulate the amount of information readers could extract from the parafovea (the entire sentence or a 13-character window of text). Global, sentence-level analyses showed typical disruption to reading by the window, and under quiet conditions similar effects were observed at the target and post-target word in the local analyses. Standard and deviant sounds also produced clear distraction effects of differing magnitudes at the target and post-target words, though at both regions, these effects were qualified by interactions. Effects at the target word suggested that with sounds, readers engaged in less effective parafoveal processing than under quiet. Similar patterns of effects due to standard and deviant sounds, each with a different time course, occurred at the post-target word. We conclude that distraction via auditory deviation causes disruption to parafoveal processing during reading, with such effects being modulated by the degree to which a sound’s characteristics are more or less unique.

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