Symposium: Attention, perception, and memory in scene analysis
Wednesday, Sep 9, 2015
Multi-tasking: influence of irrelevant sounds on target detection
Neuroscience, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, United States
Is it possible to multi-task effectively? Dividing attention between active, relevant tasks generally comes at a ‘cost’ - a measurable decrease in performance. But what happens to task performance when there are irrelevant, competing sound events, such as in a noisy environment? The current study tested how task-relevant processing demands interact with task-irrelevant sound processes to affect task performance. We hypothesized that task-irrelevant sounds must be structured to monitor ongoing events in the background ‘scene’, and that the processing demands for task-irrelevant sounds would affect task-relevant performance. Using event-related brain potentials (ERPs) and behavioral responses to task-relevant and task-irrelevant feature-pattern deviants, we found that task performance was reduced when there were competing feature-patterns. Errors primarily occurred in response to the to-be-ignored pattern deviants, indicating that tone feature-patterns were structured in memory as separate informational streams when irrelevant to task performance. Task-irrelevant elicitation of ERP components was consistent with the error analysis. These results provide evidence for multiple task performance, involving processing of task-relevant and task-irrelevant informational streams, a type of ‘multi-tasking’ that decreased behavioral performance. Together, these findings demonstrate that working memory processes interact with selective attention. Our results demonstrate that irrelevant informational streams are processed at a cost to performance, which may be considered a type of ‘multi-tasking’ that is an ongoing, automatic processing of task-irrelevant sensory events.