Parmentier, F. B., Elford, G., Escera, C., Andres, P., & SanMiguel, I. (2008). The cognitive locus of distraction by acoustic novelty in the cross-modal oddball task. Cognition, 106(1), 408-432.

The cognitive locus of distraction by acoustic novelty in the cross-modal oddball task

Unexpected stimuli are often able to distract us away from a task at hand. The present study seeks to explore some of the mechanisms underpinning this phenomenon. Studies of involuntary attention capture using the oddball task have repeatedly shown that infrequent auditory changes in a series of otherwise repeating sounds trigger an automatic response to the novel or deviant stimulus. This attention capture has been shown to disrupt participants' behavioral performance in a primary task, even when distractors and targets are asynchronous and presented in distinct sensory modalities. This distraction effect is generally considered as a by-product of the capture of attention by the novel or deviant stimulus, but the exact cognitive locus of this effect and the interplay between attention capture and target processing has remained relatively ignored. The present study reports three behavioral experiments using a cross-modal oddball task to examine whether the distraction triggered by auditory novelty affects the processing of the target stimuli. Our results showed that variations in the demands placed on the visual analysis (Experiment 1) or categorical processing of the target (Experiment 2) did not impact on distraction. Instead, the cancellation of distraction by the presentation of an irrelevant visual stimulus presented immediately before the visual target (Experiment 3) suggested that distraction originated in the shifts of attention occurring between attention capture and the onset of the target processing. Possible accounts of these shifts are discussed.


Cognitive and Biological Psychology

University of Leipzig
Faculty of Life Sciences
Institute of Psychology
Neumarkt 9-19
D-04109 Leipzig


Dagmar Schrödl
Phone: +49 341 97-39570
Email: dagmar dot schroedl at uni-leipzig dot de

Fax: +49 341 97-39271