Cognitive Control of Involuntary Distraction by Deviant Sounds

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It is well established that a task-irrelevant sound (deviant sound) departing from an otherwise repetitive sequence of sounds (standard sounds) elicits an involuntary capture of attention and orienting response toward the deviant stimulus, resulting in the lengthening of response times in an ongoing task. Some have argued that this type of distraction can be reduced by cognitive control when visual stimuli cue the presentation of the deviant and standard sounds. We compared this account with an alternative explanation, namely, that cues may reduce distraction because cue processing depletes attentional resources from the orienting response to the deviant sound. We report the results of an experiment in which participants judged the movement direction of sounds in the absence of cues and in conditions in which the type of sound was cued early or immediately before the sounds. We found that cues predicting the presentation of deviant sounds eliminated behavioral distraction irrespective of the time available to process them. This finding lends support to the contention that distraction by deviant sounds can be reduced through cognitive control and rule out the division of attention as an alternative explanation of our results and those from past studies.

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