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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1978 May;36(5):536-48.

Distractibility in dieters and nondieters: an alternative view of "externality".


Two experiments were performed in an investigation of the effects of distraction and emotional arousal on the proofreading performance of dieting female subjects. In Experiment 1, it was found that distraction initially impaired the performance of dieters and facilitated the performance of nondieters, a pattern previously shown by Rodin to apply to obese and normal weight subjects, respectively, and interpreted as evidence of greater externality in the obese. Subsequent retesting of the same subjects in succeeding months, however, revealed a complete reversal of the original results. In Experiment 2, the reaction to distraction found in the first phase of Experiment 1 was obtained when subjects were in a situation of minimal threat. In a situation of high threat, the relative distractibility of dieters was reversed, as in the latter phases of Experiment 1. An explanation is offered for these data in terms of the greater emotionality of dieters, the susceptibility of cognitive performance to arousal (distraction, anxiety) manipulations, and the potentially competing effects of distraction and anxiety. Implications for the prevailing "trait" view of externality (stimulus binding) are discussed.

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