Preferential processing of tactile events under conditions of divided attention

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Differences in transduction and transmission latencies of visual, auditory and tactile events cause corresponding differences in simple reaction time. As reaction time is usually measured in unimodal blocks, it is unclear whether such latency differences also apply when observers monitor multiple sensory channels. We investigate this by comparing reaction time when attention is focused on a single modality, and when attention is divided between multiple modalities. Results show that tactile reaction time is unaffected by dividing attention, whereas visual and auditory reaction times are significantly and asymmetrically increased. These findings show that tactile information is processed preferentially by the nervous system under conditions of divided attention, and suggest that tactile events may be processed preattentively.

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