Wetzel, N., Widmann, A., & Schröger, E. (2012). Distraction and facilitation - two faces of the same coin? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 38(3), 664-674.

Distraction and facilitation - two faces of the same coin?

Unexpected and task-irrelevant sounds can capture our attention and may cause distraction effects reflected by impaired performance in a primary task unrelated to the perturbing sound. The present auditory-visual oddball study examines the effect of the informational content of a sound on the performance in a visual discrimination task. The informational content was modulated by varying the sound-target interval and the probability of target occurrence. Effects of informational content were examined with two types of distractors: a burst of white noise (deviant) and environmental sounds (novel). Behavioral results reveal the following. (1) Novel and deviant sounds do not necessarily cause behavioral distraction effects when they are uninformative with respect to both time and probability of occurrence of a visual target. (2) Novel, but not deviant, sounds cause an unspecific bias toward facilitation. (3) The informational content of task-irrelevant sounds speeds reaction times, indicating the use of information not directly related to the task for enhancing performance. (4) It is suggested that performance in deviant and novel trials is the sum of the costs of attentional orienting and benefits of information as well as benefits of unspecific activation for novels.


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