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Trends Cogn Sci. 2005 Feb;9(2):75-82.

Distracted and confused?: selective attention under load.

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Department of Psychology and Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK.


The ability to remain focused on goal-relevant stimuli in the presence of potentially interfering distractors is crucial for any coherent cognitive function. However, simply instructing people to ignore goal-irrelevant stimuli is not sufficient for preventing their processing. Recent research reveals that distractor processing depends critically on the level and type of load involved in the processing of goal-relevant information. Whereas high perceptual load can eliminate distractor processing, high load on "frontal" cognitive control processes increases distractor processing. These findings provide a resolution to the long-standing early and late selection debate within a load theory of attention that accommodates behavioural and neuroimaging data within a framework that integrates attention research with executive function.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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