The role of working memory in auditory selective attention.
Dalton P., Santangelo V., Spence C.
A growing body of research now demonstrates that working memory plays an important role in controlling the extent to which irrelevant visual distractors are processed during visual selective attention tasks (e.g., Lavie, Hirst, De Fockert, & Viding, 2004). Recently, it has been shown that the successful selection of tactile information also depends on the availability of working memory (Dalton, Lavie, & Spence, 2009). Here, we investigate whether working memory plays a role in auditory selective attention. Participants focused their attention on short continuous bursts of white noise (targets) while attempting to ignore pulsed bursts of noise (distractors). Distractor interference in this auditory task, as measured in terms of the difference in performance between congruent and incongruent distractor trials, increased significantly under high (vs. low) load in a concurrent working-memory task. These results provide the first evidence demonstrating a causal role for working memory in reducing interference by irrelevant auditory distractors.