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Atten Percept Psychophys. 2015 Jul;77(5):1659-73. doi: 10.3758/s13414-015-0866-9.

Low cognitive load strengthens distractor interference while high load attenuates when cognitive load and distractor possess similar visual characteristics.

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Department of Psychology, Graduate School of Human Sciences, Osaka University, 1-2 Yamadaoka, Suita, Osaka, 565-0871, Japan,


Studies on visual cognitive load have reported inconsistent effects of distractor interference when distractors have visual characteristic that are similar to the cognitive load. Some studies have shown that the cognitive load enhances distractor interference, while others reported an attenuating effect. We attribute these inconsistencies to the amount of cognitive load that a person is required to maintain. Lower amounts of cognitive load increase distractor interference by orienting attention toward visually similar distractors. Higher amounts of cognitive load attenuate distractor interference by depleting attentional resources needed to process distractors. In the present study, cognitive load consisted of faces (Experiments 1-3) or scenes (Experiment 2). Participants performed a selective attention task in which they ignored face distractors while judging a color of a target dot presented nearby, under differing amounts of load. Across these experiments distractor interference was greater in the low-load condition and smaller in the high-load condition when the content of the cognitive load had similar visual characteristic to the distractors. We also found that when a series of judgments needed to be made, the effect was apparent for the first trial but not for the second. We further tested an involvement of working memory capacity (WMC) in the load effect (Experiment 3). Interestingly, both high and low WMC groups received an equivalent effect of the cognitive load in the first distractor, suggesting these effects are fairly automatic.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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