Home Email this page Print this page Bookmark this page Decrease font size Default font size Increase font size
Noise & Health  
 CURRENT ISSUE    PAST ISSUES    AHEAD OF PRINT    SEARCH   GET E-ALERTS    
 
 
Similar in PUBMED
   Search Pubmed for
   Search in Google Scholar for
 Related articles
Email Alert *
Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  
 


 
   Abstract
   Introduction
   Individual Diffe...
   Other Population...
   Discussion
   Conclusion
   Acknowledgments
   References
 

 Article Access Statistics
    Viewed5352    
    Printed166    
    Emailed6    
    PDF Downloaded50    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 18    

Recommend this journal

 


 
THEORETICAL ASPECTS OF AUDITORY DISTRACTION Table of Contents   
Year : 2010  |  Volume : 12  |  Issue : 49  |  Page : 217-224
The role of working memory capacity in auditory distraction: A review

Laboratory of Applied Psychology, Centre for Built Environment, University of Gvle, Gvle, Sweden

Click here for correspondence address and email
Date of Web Publication21-Sep-2010
 
  Abstract 

The purpose of this paper was to review the current knowledge on individual differences in susceptibility to the effects of task-irrelevant sound on cognition. The literature indicates that at least two functionally different cognitive mechanisms underlie those differences; one is the efficiency by which people process the order between perceptually discrete sound events and the other is related to working memory capacity. The first mechanism seems to be involved only when disruption is a function of conflicting order processes, whereas the other mechanism is involved in a wider range of phenomena including those when attentional capture and conflicting semantic processes form the basis of disruption. Because of this, noise abatement interventions should first of all be directed towards people with low working memory capacity. Implications for theories of auditory distraction are discussed.

Keywords: Attentional capture, auditory distraction, individual differences, noise, working memory capacity

How to cite this article:
Srqvist P. The role of working memory capacity in auditory distraction: A review. Noise Health 2010;12:217-24

How to cite this URL:
Srqvist P. The role of working memory capacity in auditory distraction: A review. Noise Health [serial online] 2010 [cited 2018 Aug 18];12:217-24. Available from: http://www.noiseandhealth.org/text.asp?2010/12/49/217/70500

  Introduction Top


Try to read this article while people are talking in the background. Are you distracted? To some of us, it is nearly impossible to understand what we read in those situations, whereas others seem largely unaffected by noise. What is the basis of those individual differences? The purpose of this article is to explore the role of working memory capacity (WMC) in answering this question. In the first section of the review, the role of WMC in different types of auditory distraction phenomena is outlined. In the second section, insights from studies that have compared populations known to differ in WMC are discussed. The implications for theories of auditory distraction are discussed in the third section. Finally, the applied implications to work places and noise abatement programs are outlined. If the review suggests that auditory distraction is a function of the type of task under consideration, the type of sound in the environment and the cognitive characteristics of the people undertaking the tasks, then the effects of noise on work performance may be different depending on the type of work being done and the people who work there. This would have implications for how to best implement noise abatement programs.


  Individual Differences in Susceptibility to Auditory Distraction Top


The changing-state effect

Short-term serial recall is probably the most common task in laboratory research on auditory distraction. In this task, the participants view short lists of items (e.g., eight unrelated words) presented sequentially and thereafter they recall the items in order of presentation. Some trials are performed in silence whereas others are performed against a background of sound. When sound is present, recall is usually reduced. For disruption to take place, however, the individual elements in the sound stream must be perceptually discrete. For instance, the sound sequence "k l m v r q c" impairs serial recall to a larger degree than the sound sequence "r r r r r r r". This difference in disruptive power amongst changing-state sound sequences and steady-state sound sequences is known as the changing-state effect. [1] It is important to note that changing-state sound sequences are more disruptive if the task requires order processing. If the task does not require order processing, as when the participants are requested to recall the items in free order instead of in serial order, changing-state sound sequences are no more disruptive than steady-state sounds. [1] Based on these findings, it has been suggested that the changing-state effect is a product of interference between similar order processes. [2] That is, the automatic processing of order information in the sound stream is in conflict with the deliberate processing of order between individual items in the serial recall task.The basis of individual differences in susceptibility to the changing-state effect initially proved difficult to understand. One possibility that first attracted attention from researchers was differences in short-term memory capacity (i.e., performance on a simple span task). However, the attempts to find a relationship between simple span and the magnitude of the changing-state effect failed, demonstrating correlations close to zero, [3],[4] a result which suggests that short-term memory capacity is not the basis of differences in susceptibility to the changing-state effect. This absence of a correlation may have been the result of insufficient measures of memory capacity. Particularly, a complex-span task may be more suitable than a simple-span task. In a typical complex-span task, such as "operation span" (OSPAN), [5] the participants view sets of operation-word strings (e.g., "Is (4 ΄ 3) + 5 = 17? CACTUS"), with the task being to respond "yes" or "no" to the operation and to remember the word for later recall. After responding to a set of those operation-word strings, the participants are probed to recall the words in order of presentation. Complex-span tasks are used to measure what is called WMC. Individual differences in WMC are extremely successful in predicting individual differences in cognitive capabilities across a wide range of domains, [6],[7],[8] which has led some authors to argue that WMC reflects individual differences in a general and limited pool of attentional resources that can be used to inhibit task-irrelevant information, maintain items in primary memory in the presence of distraction or to retrieve items from secondary memory once they have been displaced from primary memory. [8],[9],[10] Because of this, one would expect people who perform well on this type of task to be less susceptible to the changing-state effect. However, several authors tried, but failed, to find this relationship. [11],[12],[13] Taken together, the weight of the evidence indicates that the capacity of working memory is not the basis of individual differences in susceptibility to the changing-state effect.

If WMC is not the basis of those individual differences, then what is? In a recent investigation, Macken, Phelps and Jones [14] asked participants to listen to pairs of sound-patterns and requested them to judge whether or not the two patterns in each pair were the same. The authors argued that the pattern-matching task measures the ability to automatically process order information in sound sequences. Later, the participants performed a serial recall task for the authors to obtain a person-specific measure of the changing-state effect. Consistent with the authors' expectations, the participants who performed well on the pattern-matching task were the ones most susceptible to the changing-state effect. Based on these findings, the authors concluded that the magnitude of the changing-state effect is a function of the efficiency with which people process acoustical changes in sounds (i.e., order information). This interpretation is consistent with the idea that the changing-state effect is the result of interference between similar order processes. [2] Altogether, the current literature suggests that differences in order processing, not WMC, underlie susceptibility to the changing-state effect.

Semantic auditory distraction

The semantic meaning of the sound seems to add nothing to the disruptive effects of speech on serial recall. [1],[15],[16],[17] For instance, a sequence of spoken numbers is no more disruptive than spoken words to serial recall of visually presented numbers. [15] However, the semantic information inherent in speech can enhance the magnitude of the disruption of language-based tasks. For example, reading comprehension [18],[19] and proof reading [20] are more sensitive to interference from speech than to interference from non-speech sounds. Similar findings have been reported in short-term memory paradigms as well. Neely and LeCompte [21] requested participants to view lists of visual to-be-remembered words (e.g., Fruit) while they presented lists of to-be-ignored speech words which either were semantically related to the to-be-remembered words (e.g., other Fruit) or not (e.g., Tools). Speech words that belong to the same semantic category as the to-be-remembered words produced a larger disruption than speech words which belong to a different semantic category. Hence, tasks that require processing of meaning, rather than processing of sequential order, are particularly disrupted by the meaning of speech. The condition where lexical-semantic information in speech forms the basis of disruption is called semantic auditory distraction.[22],[23] Semantic auditory distraction is believed to be caused by two mechanisms. First, people tend to systematically recall items they heard in the background speech when the task is to recall visually presented words, even though they are instructed to ignore materials with an auditory source. [11],[21],[22] This has been taken as evidence for the suggestion that a breakdown of source monitoring contributes to semantic auditory distraction. Second, speech words that comprise high-dominance exemplars of the same semantic category as the to-be-recalled words produce more disruption than low-dominance words. This has been taken as evidence for the suggestion that an inhibition mechanism contributes to semantic auditory distraction. Specifically, when the to-be-ignored speech words are high-dominance exemplars, they compete with the to-be-recalled items for recall and must be inhibited so as to not intrude into the recall protocol. This inhibition process also affects the activation state of the to-be-recalled items and, because of this, impairs recall. [22],[23]

In contrast to studies of the changing-state effect, a number of studies have found WMC to predict individual differences in susceptibility to semantic auditory distraction. Beaman [11] was the first to demonstrate this relationship using OSPAN as a measure of WMC. He requested participants to view lists of visually presented to-be-remembered words (e.g., Fruit) with the task to recall the words in free order, and thereafter, he presented lists of to-be-ignored speech words which were semantically related to the to-be-remembered words (e.g., other Fruit). At recall, low-WMC individuals reported more of the to-be-ignored speech words than high-WMC individuals did. Beaman proposed that high-WMC individuals are better able to monitor the source of the to-be-ignored speech words or to inhibit those words, consistent with the ideas by Marsh et al. [22]

In a later investigation, Sφrqvist, Halin and Hygge [24] aimed to extend Beaman's [11] findings to disruption of reading comprehension, but instead of using the OSPAN task, they used a number updating tasks to specify the basis of the relationship between WMC and semantic auditory distraction more precisely. In the number updating task, [25] the participants view lists of sequentially presented two-digit numbers (e.g., 45 67 58 36 52 49 61 54 29 53) with the goal to recall the three numbers with the lowest arithmetic value (e.g., 45 36 29) at the end of list presentation. At recall, the participants can make two types of errors of particular interest. First, they may recall an item that once was one of the three lowest numbers presented so far (e.g., "67" in the example above), but should subsequently have been deleted from the memory set when a lower number was presented (e.g., "36" in the example above). This type of error is called a "delayed intrusion" because it concerns items that should be part of the memory set for a while before they are suppressed. Second, the participants may recall an item that should never have been part of the memory set because three lower numbers were presented earlier in the list (e.g., "54" in the example above). This type of error is called an "immediate intrusion" since it concerns items to be immediately excluded from the memory set. The advantage of the number updating task over the OSPAN task (and many other measures of WMC) is the ability to measure these two item confusion errors (immediate and delayed intrusions) which may have individual correlative properties because they measure different cognitive mechanisms. [24],[26] For instance, delayed intrusions reliably predict a person's reading comprehension abilities, whereas immediate intrusions do not. [27]

The situation when the participants are presented with a number to-be-immediately excluded from the memory set (i.e., a potential immediate intrusion error) closely resembles the situation when the participants need to hold a set of semantically related words in memory while ignoring other potentially relevant, but ultimately irrelevant, speech words in a paradigm such as the one used by Beaman. [11] That is, in both the situations, the participants must avoid confusion among relevant and potentially relevant but ultimately irrelevant materials. Based on this similarity, Sφrqvist et al, [24] assumed that immediate intrusion errors should predict susceptibility to the effects of speech on reading comprehension. The results supported this hypothesis (whereas delayed intrusion errors did not predict disruption of reading comprehension). Furthermore, the number of correct answers on the number updating task also predicted susceptibility to disruption. Since updating tasks, such as the one used in this investigation, are valid measures of WMC, [28] this is a demonstration of a relationship between WMC and disruption of reading comprehension. However, further analyses revealed that this relationship disappears when the immediate intrusion errors are statistically controlled for. This is the main contribution from Sφrqvist et al.'s [24] study. The authors argued that people's performance on the number updating task is a joint product of a range of mechanisms including the one measured by immediate intrusion errors. Therefore, the WMC construct can be said to cover functionally different mechanisms. Since the relationship between the task score and distraction disappears when immediate intrusion errors are controlled for, the authors concluded that the mechanism measured by immediate intrusions is responsible for the relationship between WMC and semantic auditory distraction. Note that this idea is not entirely consistent with the assumption that a source monitoring mechanism underlies the relationship between WMC and semantic auditory distraction as suggested by Beaman. [11] Since all numbers in the number updating task have the same source at presentation, immediate intrusion errors are not due to failure in source monitoring. Rather, this kind of item confusion error is perhaps better explained in terms of failed "relevance monitoring"; that is, an inclusion/exclusion mechanism responsible for the gating of task-relevant information into working memory and the exclusion of task-irrelevant items. An inclusion/exclusion mechanism can also account for intrusions from speech items into the recall of memory items found in several studies, [11],[21],[22],[23] usually taken as evidence for the role of a source monitoring mechanism in semantic auditory distraction.

In a related study, Sφrqvist et al,[26] extended those findings to the effects of speech on prose memory. In the reading comprehension task used by Sφrqvist et al, [24] the participants read short paragraphs and answered questions while having the paragraphs available the whole time. In the prose memory task, the participants first read a sequence of paragraphs and later answered questions about facts explicitly stated in the paragraphs, not having the texts available for review when answering the questions. In Experiment 1, Sφrqvist et al,[26] found the tendency to make immediate intrusion errors in the number updating task to predict susceptibility to the effects of speech on prose memory, whereas delayed intrusions do not, conceptually replicating previous results. [24] In Experiment 2, they developed a new task called "size-comparison span" (SICSPAN). In this task, the participants are presented with lists of comparison words and to-be-remembered words (e.g., "Is CAT larger than COW? CROCODILE"). The participant's task is to answer "yes" or "no" to the question and to remember the third word (i.e. "CROCODILE" in the example above) for later recall. At the recall phase, the participants may recall some item presented as a comparison-word (i.e., e.g. "CAT" in the example above) rather than a memory word even though it should never have been included in the memory set. This type of error resembles the immediate intrusion errors in the number updating task as they measure an inclusion/exclusion mechanism responsible for excluding irrelevant materials from the memory set, but they are called current-list intrusions instead and are more reliable than the immediate intrusion errors. [26] Consistent with the authors' expectations, the tendency to make current-list intrusions in the SICSPAN task predicted susceptibility to the effects of speech on prose memory. Furthermore, the relationship between WMC, as measured by correct answers on the SICSPAN task, and the effects of speech on prose memory was significant, but this relationship disappeared when current-list intrusions were statistically controlled for, whereas current-list intrusions still predicted the magnitude of disruption. The researchers also included the traditional OSPAN task in the investigation and were able to show that OSPAN scores predict the effects of speech on prose memory similar to SICSPAN scores. However, the relationship between OSPAN and distraction also disappeared when the current-list intrusions in the SICSPAN task were statistically controlled for, whereas the current-list intrusions still predicted distraction. This is strong evidence for the authors' assumption that the capability to exclude irrelevant materials from the relevant materials is the underlying mechanism responsible for the relationship between WMC and semantic auditory distraction.

Attentional capture

An auditory event that stands out or deviates from the recent auditory past, such as the sound "m" in the sound sequence "c c c m c c c", disrupts serial recall of visual items. This phenomenon is known as the deviation effect. [29],[30],[31] Many researchers agree that the deviation effect is caused by attentional capture. [29],[32],[33] Attentional capture is a result of unexpected stimulation. For instance, a sequence of repeated items (e.g., "c c c c c c c") makes us expect that each item is followed by another similar item. When those expectations are violated, as when the sound "m" is presented in the sound sequence "c c c c c c m", an orienting response is elicited. [34] The orienting response is accompanied by a redirection of attention toward the unexpected stimulus, away from the focal task, and causes disruption.

When engaged in a conversation, hearing one's own name spoken in the background can capture our attention. This is part of what is known as the "cocktail party phenomenon". Not all of us demonstrate the cocktail party phenomenon, however. [35] Like with semantic auditory distraction, WMC appears to play a central role in those individual differences. To demonstrate this, Conway, Cowan and Bunting [36] asked participants to continuously repeat aloud (i.e., shadow) a message presented to one ear while ignoring another message presented to the other ear. The participant's own name was spoken in the to-be-ignored channel at some point during shadowing. The results revealed that people who score high on the OSPAN task are less likely to make shadowing mistakes at the time their name is presented. Furthermore, they are less likely to report hearing their own name at the end of the session. Hence, high WMC seems to attenuate the potential power of unexpected stimuli to capture attention.

Based in part on the findings reported by Conway et al, [36] Sφrqvist [37] investigated if OSPAN scores would predict susceptibility to the deviation effect. He requested participants to study lists of sequentially presented numbers and to recall them in order of presentation. On most trials, tones of the same frequency were presented rapidly and repeatedly in the background. However, on a handful of trials, the frequency of one of those tones was changed so as to deviate from the others. This manipulation reduced recall, producing a deviation effect. Importantly, further analyses revealed that the magnitude of the deviation effect was negatively related to the participants' WMC. Furthermore, Sφrqvist [37] included a changing-state background condition in which each tone was different from the preceding one. This manipulation also produced a reliable disruption of the serial recall task, replicating the changing-state effect. Consistent with previous investigations, [11],[13] the participants' OSPAN score was unrelated to the changing-state effect. Moreover, the correlation between OSPAN and the deviation effect was significantly different from the correlation between OSPAN and the changing-state effect. Sφrqvist [37] also found the same pattern of results in another experiment when speech materials, instead of tones, were used to produce the effects. These results provide further evidence for the assumption that WMC does indeed play a central role in susceptibility to attentional capture, but not in susceptibility to interference between order processes.


  Other Population Differences Top


So far we have learned that WMC plays a role in some, but not all, types of auditory distraction. Is this pattern of results consistent with studies that have compared populations known to differ in WMC? This section of the article is concerned with this question.

Age differences

As is well known, chronological age (amongst adults) is negatively related to the capacity of working memory [38] and to the ability to inhibit irrelevant materials. [7] Studies of age differences amongst younger and older adults may therefore reveal important insights into the interplay between WMC and auditory distraction. On the other hand, differences in WMC seem responsible for differences in susceptibility to some (e.g., semantic auditory distraction) but not all (i.e., the changing-state effect) types of auditory distraction. Consistent with this observation, the size of the changing-state effect appears to be equal to younger and older adults, [39],[40] but older adults seem to be more susceptible to the effects of speech on memory for written prose materials than young individuals are, [41],[42] especially when the spoken message has a strong resemblance to what is stated in the prose material. [41] Old individuals are also more susceptible to the deviation effect than are younger individuals. [43] This pattern of results is consistent with the assumption that WMC constitutes a basis of an individual's susceptibility to interference between semantic processes and to attentional capture but not to interference between order processes. It should be noted that all studies of the elderly reviewed here concern cross-modal auditory distraction between task-irrelevant sound and task-relevant visual materials, and can therefore not be attributed to the age-related sensory decline associated with the elderly. [41]

The capacity of working memory increases reliably throughout childhood. [44] Studies of susceptibility differences in the early years may hence also be informative to the role of WMC in auditory distraction. In a study by Elliott, [45] children (about 8-12 years of age) and adults (about 19 years of age) were asked to perform a serial recall task in different sound conditions. Two main findings were reported. First, the changing-state effect was larger in magnitude for children. Second, changing-state spoken-letter sequences were more detrimental to children's serial recall performance than were changing-state tone-sequences, but not to adults' serial recall. Elliott suggested task-irrelevant speech material to be more attention grabbing to children than tones are, a difference not evident in adults, as a possible explanation to this finding.

Elliott's [45] interpretation implies that differences in WMC should be more important to the filtering of speech sounds than of non-speech sounds, given that WMC is related to attentional capture. [36],[37] This interpretation is not entirely consistent with the results revealed in a more recent investigation by Sφrqvist. [46] In this study, WMC influenced susceptibility to the effects of aircraft noise to a larger degree than it influenced susceptibility to the effects of speech. This investigation differed in important ways from the one reported by Elliott, however: first, the effects of noise were measured with a prose memory task rather than a serial recall task; and second, the participants were about 17 years old. Hence, the inconsistencies between these two studies may be a function of different tasks (and hence qualitatively different mechanisms may underlie the effects) or different age groups. Further investigations are needed to disentangle these possibilities.

Individuals with special needs

Some individuals perform reliably better in background noise. [3] This perhaps unexpected finding appears to be particularly evident in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). [47] For instance, Sφderlund, Sikstrφm and Smart [48] requested children with and without an ADHD diagnosis to perform a set of short-term memory tasks, either in silence or against a background of white noise presented at 80 dB(A). The results revealed an antagonistic interaction between participant group and noise such that noise had a small but beneficial effect on recall for the ADHD-group, whereas the opposite pattern of results was found for the controls. This outcome is particularly surprising in the light of working memory deficits faced by children with ADHD. [49] The negative relationship between WMC and auditory distraction established in other parts of the literature suggests that children with ADHD should actually be more distracted by noise, and consistent with this latter possibility, several investigations have indeed found noise to be particularly detrimental to cognitive processes in children with ADHD. [50],[51] The results are therefore not entirely consistent. It seems to be a fine balance between when noise is beneficial or especially detrimental to this group of children compared with normal controls (for a thorough discussion of this phenomenon, see [47] ).

There are other population differences which are more in line with the general auditory distraction literature. For instance, Johansson [52] found that children with high intelligence become better at solving arithmetic problems against a background of loud broadband noise, whereas the performance in children with low intelligence drops in broadband noise. Given that intelligence and WMC are strongly, and positively, related constructs, [53] the results reported by Johansson are consistent with the idea that low WMC increases susceptibility to auditory distraction. Similarly, some evidence indicates that children with special educational needs are particularly sensitive to detrimental effects of noise. [54] Taken together, it seems as if differences between populations follow the same pattern of results as the general auditory distraction literature. That is, low cognitive capacity makes people more susceptible to auditory distraction while noise can be beneficial for those with high capacity, even though there are exceptions to this general rule.


  Discussion Top


Implications for theories of auditory distraction

A long-standing debate within the auditory distraction literature is whether the effects are caused by attentional resources being depleted by the sound [9],[13],[31],[45] or by conflicts between similar processes engaged in the focal task and in the processing of the sound. [1],[2],[22] Recently, however, Hughes et al.[29] have proposed a reconciliation between these two views, suggesting that some effects are caused by attentional capture (e.g., the deviation effect), whereas others are caused by interference between similar processes (e.g., the changing-state effect). The individual differences literature reviewed here supports this latter view, indicating that auditory distraction is caused by at least two different mechanisms. One is the efficiency with which people process the order between perceptually discrete sound events. This mechanism underlies individual differences in susceptibility to the changing-state effect [14] and its involvement is therefore restricted to tasks necessitating serial-order processing. [2] The other mechanism is reflected in an individual's WMC. This mechanism seems to be involved in a wide range of effects including the cocktail party phenomenon, [36] the deviation effect, [37] and effects of speech on reading comprehension, [24] prose memory, [26] and short-term memory of semantic information. [11] The WMC mechanism seems also, to a large extent, to be responsible for differences in susceptibility to auditory distraction amongst age groups and other populations. However, WMC is unrelated to the changing-state effect [3],[4],[11],[13],[37] which suggests that the two mechanisms are functionally independent. The crucial distinction between the changing-state effect and the other effects (attentional capture and semantic auditory distraction) may be that the former is produced by purely perceptual processes and therefore cannot be influenced by cognitive control, whereas the latter are related to processing of meaning and can be overruled by cognitive control (Philip Beaman, personal communication).

Most studies reviewed here concern cross-modal auditory distraction. It should be noted that the main conclusion of this article (i.e., that WMC plays a role in auditory distraction) is consistent with findings from studies of within-modal auditory distraction. For instance, memory of spoken words is impaired by white noise that masks the target signal, but high-WMC individuals are less susceptible to this impairment. [55] This finding lends support for the assumption that cognitive processes rather than auditory processes such as an inability to hear the target signal underpin disruption.

The nature of the mechanism reflected by WMC requires further discussion. On the one hand, WMC attenuates attentional capture by unexpected auditory stimulation. [36,37] On the other hand, WMC is related to semantic auditory distraction. [11],[24],[26] Are those relationships caused by a single mechanism or are they caused by several mechanisms juxtaposed under the WMC construct? To answer this question, it could be useful to analyze the complex-span tasks used to measure WMC in more detail. Complex-span tasks are characterized by combining a processing-task with a memory-task. For instance, in the OSPAN task, the participants move back and forth between processing operations (e.g., "Is (4 - 2)/2 = 1?") and storing/rehearsing words (e.g., "SNAIL"). Hence, good performance requires attention to be switched between the two parts of the task. Furthermore, the participants must avoid confusion among the items encountered in the processing part of the task with those presented in the memory part of the task. A participant's OSPAN score should therefore reflect a conglomeration of the work by at least two mechanisms: one responsible for the capability to switch attention between two concurrent tasks and the other one responsible for the capability to exclude irrelevant materials from the memory set. A low OSPAN score could hence reflect a poor ability to switch attention, a poor ability to exclude irrelevant materials, or both. This way, the same measure of WMC can be related to several different phenomena for qualitatively different reasons (cf. the sub-process view of WMC by Sφrqvist et al.[26] ). Based on this reasoning, I suggest that an attentional switch mechanism is responsible for the relationship between WMC and attentional capture, whereas an exclusion mechanism (possibly a form of inhibition/suppression of task-irrelevant materials) underlies the relationship between WMC and semantic auditory distraction.

Applied implications for noise abatement programs

The negative consequences of noise for cognitive performance are nowhere as serious as in schools and offices. Noise abatement interventions therefore have the largest impact when applied to these environments. However, the resources are sparse and must be applied economically. One way to meet this requirement is to give priority to individuals who enjoy the largest effect of the interventions. As we have seen throughout this review, who they are depends on the type of work-related task the individuals are undertaking, the type of sound in the environment, and on the individuals' own cognitive characteristics. The main observation in the review is that low WMC renders people susceptible to detrimental effects of noise, in particular, to effects of noise on tasks semantic in nature (e.g., reading comprehension, prose memory) and to attentional capture from unexpected sounds. Since school- and office-related tasks usually are language-based, and sounds with the potential to grab attention (e.g., slamming doors, phone signals, moving chairs) are relatively common in these environments, low-WMC individuals working there should suffer the most from noise. Based on this account, people with low WMC should be the first to receive actions against noise in schools and office environments. These individuals generally include older adults, [38] young children [44] and those with poor scholastic achievement. [56]

Future research

There are a number of gaps in the literature on susceptibility to the effects of noise, which needs to be filled. First, there is a marked absence of investigations of children's susceptibility to noise. Studies on children may provide important insights on how the mechanisms responsible for auditory distraction develop. Second, susceptibility to semantic auditory distraction is a relatively new area of research. The few studies that have been published suggest that WMC plays an important role in this type of distraction, [11],[24],[26],[41] but the proposed reasons for why WMC is related to semantic auditory distraction are far from conclusive. Moreover, it is at present unclear if the effects of speech on reading comprehension and prose memory found by Sφrqvist and colleagues [24],[26] are qualitatively equal to the effects found in a short-term memory paradigm by Beaman, [11] especially since Sφrqvist and colleagues did not include a non-speech sound for comparison in their investigations. A third question for future research is whether or not the same mechanism underlies the relationships between WMC and semantic auditory distraction and between WMC and attentional capture. Answering this question is important to the building of general theories of auditory distraction.

Most studies on individual differences in susceptibility to auditory distraction concern artificial sounds. The study by Boman et al,[ 42] which looked at effects of road traffic noise amongst different age groups, the study by Sφrqvist [46] that concerned effects of aircraft noise on school adolescent's prose memory, and the study of babble and children with special educational needs by Dockrell and Shield [54] represent three exceptions. From an applied perspective, we lack investigations of individual differences in susceptibility to acute and chronic noise exposure in more ecological settings. This line of research is particularly relevant to evaluate the guidelines for noise abatement programs suggested in this article above.


  Conclusion Top


As we have seen throughout this review, the basis of individual differences in susceptibility to auditory distraction varies depending on (a) the type of cognitive task which is affected by distraction and (b) the characteristics of the sound under consideration. Some authors have for a long time argued that processing of acoustic change in sound streams determines auditory distraction, [1],[2] but 10 years ago it was not at all clear if working memory capacity also plays a role in this phenomenon. Now it is evident that some, yet unspecified, mechanism related to the capacity of working memory forms a fundamental basis of individual differences in susceptibility to the effects of noise on memory and cognition.


  Acknowledgments Top


The writing of this article was made possible by support received from the Swedish Research Council and from the University of Gδvle. I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments.

 
  References Top

1.Jones DM, Macken WJ. Irrelevant tones produce an irrelevant speech effect: Implications for phonological coding in working memory. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 1993;19:369-81.  Back to cited text no. 1      
2.Macken W, Tremblay S, Alford D, Jones D. Attentional selectivity in short-term memory: Similarity of process, not similarity of content, determines disruption. Int J Psychol 1999;34:322-27.  Back to cited text no. 2      
3.Ellermeier W, Zimmer K. Individual differences in susceptibility to the "irrelevant speech effect." J Acoust Soc Am 1997;102:2191-99.  Back to cited text no. 3      
4.Neath I, Farley LA, Surprenant AM. Directly assessing the relationship between irrelevant speech and articulatory suppression. Q J Exp Psychol 2003;56A:1269-78.  Back to cited text no. 4      
5.Turner ML, Engle RW. Is working memory capacity task dependent? J Mem Lang 1989;28:127-54.  Back to cited text no. 5      
6.Engle RW. Working memory capacity as executive attention. Curr Trends Psychol Sci 2002;11:19-23.  Back to cited text no. 6      
7.Lustig C, Hasher L, Zacks RT. Inhibitory deficit theory: Recent developments in a "new view". In: Gorfein DS, MacLeod CM, editors. Inhibition in cognition. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2008. p. 145-62.  Back to cited text no. 7      
8.Unsworth N, Engle RW. The nature of individual differences in working memory capacity: Active maintenance in primary memory and controlled search from secondary memory. Psychol Rev 2007;114:104-32.  Back to cited text no. 8      
9.Cowan N. Attention and memory: An integrated framework. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press; 1995.  Back to cited text no. 9      
10.Kane MJ, Bleckley MK, Conway AR, Engle RW. A controlled-attention view of working-memory capacity. J Exp Psychol Gen 2001;130:169-83.  Back to cited text no. 10      
11.Beaman CP. The irrelevant sound phenomenon revisited: What role for working memory capacity? J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 2004;30:1106-18.  Back to cited text no. 11      
12.Elliott EM, Barrilleaux KM, Cowan N. Individual differences in the ability to avoid distracting sounds. Eur J Cogn Psychol 2006;18:90-108.  Back to cited text no. 12      
13.Elliott E, Cowan N. Coherence of the irrelevant-sound effect: Individual profiles of short-term memory and susceptibility to task-irrelevant materials. Mem Cognit 2005;33:664-75.  Back to cited text no. 13      
14.Macken WJ, Phelps FG, Jones DM. What causes auditory distraction? Psychon Bull Rev 2009;16:139-44.  Back to cited text no. 14      
15.Buchner A, Irmen L, Erdfelder E. On the irrelevance of semantic information for the "irrelevant speech" effect. Q J Exp Psychol 1996;49A:765-79.  Back to cited text no. 15      
16.Tremblay S, Nicholls AP, Alford D, Jones DM. The irrelevant sound effect: Does speech play a special role? J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 2000;26:1750-54.  Back to cited text no. 16      
17.Buchner A, Rothermund K, Wentura D, Mehl B. Valence of distractor words increases the effects of irrelevant speech on serial recall. Mem Cognit 2004;32:722-31.  Back to cited text no. 17      
18.Martin RC, Wogalter MS, Forlano JG. Reading comprehension in the presence of unattended speech and music. J Mem Lang 1988;27:382-98.  Back to cited text no. 18      
19.Oswald CJ, Tremblay S, Jones DM. Disruption of comprehension by the meaning of irrelevant sound. Memory 2000;8:345-50.  Back to cited text no. 19      
20.Jones DM, Miles C, Page J. Disruption of proofreading by irrelevant speech: Effects of attention, arousal or memory? Appl Cogn Psychol 1990;4:89-108.  Back to cited text no. 20      
21.Neely CB, LeCompte DC. The importance of semantic similarity to the irrelevant speech effect. Mem Cognit 1999;27:37-44.  Back to cited text no. 21      
22.Marsh JE, Hughes RW, Jones DM. Auditory distraction in semantic memory: A process-based approach. J Mem Lang 2008;58:682-700.  Back to cited text no. 22      
23.Marsh JE, Hughes RW, Jones DM. Interference by process, not content, determines semantic auditory distraction. Cognition 2009;110:23-38.  Back to cited text no. 23      
24.Sφrqvist P, Halin N, Hygge S. Individual differences in susceptibility to the effects of speech on reading comprehension. Appl Cogn Psychol 2010;24:67-76.  Back to cited text no. 24      
25.Carretti B, Cornoldi C, Pelegrina SL. Which factors influence number updating in working memory? The effects of size distance and suppression. Br J Psychol 2007;98:45-60.  Back to cited text no. 25      
26.Sφrqvist P, Ljungberg JK, Ljung R. A sub-process view of working memory capacity: Evidence from effects of speech on prose memory. Memory 2010;18:310-26.   Back to cited text no. 26      
27.Carretti B, Cornoldi C, De Beni R, Romanς M. Updating in working memory: A comparison of good and poor comprehenders. J Exp Child Psychol 2005;91:45-66.  Back to cited text no. 27      
28.Schmiedek F, Hildebrandt A, Lφvdιn M, Wilhelm O, Lindenberger U. Complex span versus updating tasks of working memory: The gap is not that deep. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 2009;35:1089-96.  Back to cited text no. 28      
29.Hughes RW, Vachon F, Jones DM. Auditory attentional capture during serial recall: Violations at encoding of an algorithm-based neural model? J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 2005;31:736-49.  Back to cited text no. 29      
30.Hughes RW, Vachon F, Jones DM. Disruption of short-term memory by changing and deviant sounds: Support for a duplex-mechanism account of auditory distraction. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 2007;33:1050-61.  Back to cited text no. 30      
31.Lange E. Disruption of attention by irrelevant stimuli in serial recall. J Mem Lang 2005;53:513-31.  Back to cited text no. 31      
32.Berti S, Schrφger E. Working memory controls involuntary attention switching: Evidence from an auditory distraction paradigm. Eur J Neurosci 2003;17:1119-22.  Back to cited text no. 32      
33.Nδδtδnen R, Paavilainen P, Rinne T, Alho K. The mismatch negativity (MMN) in basic research of central auditory processing: A review. Clin Neurophysiol 2007;118:2544-90.  Back to cited text no. 33      
34.Siddle DA. Orienting, habituation, and resource allocation: An associative analysis. Psychophysiology 1991;28:245-59.  Back to cited text no. 34      
35.Wood NL, Cowan N. The cocktail party phenomenon revisited: Attention and memory in the classic selective listening procedure of Cherry (1953). J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 1995;21:255-60.  Back to cited text no. 35      
36.Conway AR, Cowan N, Bunting MF. The cocktail party phenomenon revisited: The importance of working memory capacity. Psychon Bull Rev 2001;8:331-5.  Back to cited text no. 36      
37.Sφrqvist P. High working memory capacity attenuates the deviation effect but not the changing-state effect: Further support for the duplex-mechanism account of auditory distraction. Mem Cognit 2010;38:651-8.  Back to cited text no. 37      
38.Salthouse TA, Babcock RL. Decomposing adult age differences in working memory. Dev Psychol 1991;27:763-76.  Back to cited text no. 38      
39.Beaman CP. Irrelevant sound effects amongst younger and older adults: Objective findings and subjective insights. Eur J Cogn Psychol 2005;17:241-65.  Back to cited text no. 39      
40.Bell R, Buchner A. Equivalent irrelevant-sound effects for old and young adults. Mem Cognit 2007;35:352-64.  Back to cited text no. 40      
41.Bell R, Buchner A, Mund I. Age-related differences in irrelevant-speech effects. Psychol Aging 2008;23:377-91.  Back to cited text no. 41      
42.Boman E, Enmarker I, Hygge S. Strength of noise effects on memory as a function of noise source and age. Noise Health 2005;7:11-26.  Back to cited text no. 42  [PUBMED]  Medknow Journal  
43.Andrιs P, Parmentier FB, Escera C. The effect of age on involuntary capture of attention by irrelevant sounds: A test of the frontal hypothesis of aging. Neuropsychologia 2006;44:2564-68.  Back to cited text no. 43      
44.Gathercole SE, Pickering SJ, Ambridge B, Wearing H. The structure of working memory from 4 to 15 years of age. Dev Psychol 2004;40:177-90.  Back to cited text no. 44      
45.Elliott EM. The irrelevant-speech effect and children: Theoretical implications of developmental change. Mem Cognit 2002;30:478-87.  Back to cited text no. 45      
46.Sφrqvist P. Effects of aircraft noise and speech on prose memory: What role for working memory capacity? J Environ Psychol 2010;30:112-8.  Back to cited text no. 46      
47.Sikstrφm S, Sφderlund G. Stimulus-dependent dopamine release in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Psychol Rev 2007;114:1047-75.  Back to cited text no. 47      
48.Sφderlund G, Sikstrφm S, Smart A. Listen to the noise: Noise is beneficial for cognitive performance in ADHD. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 2007;48:840-7.  Back to cited text no. 48      
49.Martinussen R, Hayden J, Hogg-Johnson S, Tannock R. A meta-analysis of working memory impairments in children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 2005;44:377-84.  Back to cited text no. 49      
50.Higginbotham P, Bartling C. The effects of sensory distractions on short-term recall of children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder versus normally-achieving children. Bull Psychon Soc 1993;31:507-10.  Back to cited text no. 50      
51.Zentall SS, Shaw JH. Effects of classroom noise on performance and activity of second-grade hyperactive and control children. J Educ Psychol 1980;72:830-40.  Back to cited text no. 51      
52.Johansson CR. Effects of low intensity, continuous and intermittent noise on mental performance and writing pressure of children with different intelligence and personality characteristics. Ergonomics 1983;26:275-88.  Back to cited text no. 52      
53.Engle RW, Tuholski SW, Laughlin JE, Conway AR. Working memory, short-term memory, and general fluid intelligence: A latent-variable approach. J Exp Psychol Gen 1999;128:309-31.  Back to cited text no. 53      
54.Dockrell JE, Shield BM. Acoustical barriers in classrooms: The impact of noise on performance in the classroom. Br Educ Res J 2006;32:509-25.  Back to cited text no. 54      
55.Kjellberg A, Ljung R, Hallman D. Recall of words heard in noise. Appl Cogn Psychol 2008;22:1088-98.  Back to cited text no. 55      
56.Gathercole SE, Pickering SJ, Knight C, Stegmann Z. Working memory skills and educational attainment: Evidence from national curriculum assessments at 7 and 14 years of age. Appl Cogn Psychol 2004;18:1-16.  Back to cited text no. 56      

Top
Correspondence Address:
Patrik Srqvist
Centre for Built Environment, University of Gvle, SE-801 76 Gvle
Sweden
Login to access the Email id

Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/1463-1741.70500

Rights and Permissions



This article has been cited by
1 Improving communication in general aviation through the use of noise cancelling headphones
Raymond Jang,Brett R.C. Molesworth,Marion Burgess,Dominique Estival
Safety Science. 2014; 62: 499
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
2 A Shield against Distraction
Niklas Halin,John E. Marsh,Anna Hellman,Ida Hellstrm,Patrik Srqvist
Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition. 2014;
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
3 Cognitive Spare Capacity and Speech Communication: A Narrative Overview
Mary Rudner,Thomas Lunner
BioMed Research International. 2014; 2014: 1
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
4 Active inhibition of task-irrelevant sounds and its neural basis in patients with attention deficits after traumatic brain injury
Daisuke Sawamura,Katsunori Ikoma,Kazuki Yoshida,Yuji Inagaki,Keita Ogawa,Shinya Sakai
Brain Injury. 2014; : 1
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
5 Individual differences in distractibility: An update and a model
Patrik Srqvist,Jerker Rnnberg
PsyCh Journal. 2014; 3(1): 42
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
6 Brain activation deficit in increased-load working memory tasks among adults with ADHD using fMRI
Chih-Hung Ko,Ju-Yu Yen,Cheng-Fang Yen,Cheng-Sheng Chen,Wei-Chen Lin,Peng-Wei Wang,Gin-Chung Liu
European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience. 2013; 263(7): 561
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
7 Aging and the perception of temporally interleaved words
Helfer, K.S. and Mason, C.R. and Marino, C.
Ear and Hearing. 2013; 34(2): 160-167
[Pubmed]
8 A 3 year update on the influence of noise on performance and behavior
Clark, C. and Sörqvist, P.
Noise and Health. 2012; 14(61): 292-296
[Pubmed]
9 Traffic noise and executive functioning in urban primary school children: The moderating role of gender
Belojevic, G. and Evans, G.W. and Paunovic, K. and Jakovljevic, B.
Journal of Environmental Psychology. 2012; 32(4): 337-341
[Pubmed]
10 Acceptance of background noise, working memory capacity, and auditory evoked potentials in subjects with normal hearing
Brännström, K.J. and Zunic, E. and Borovac, A. and Ibertsson, T.
Journal of the American Academy of Audiology. 2012; 23(7): 542-552
[Pubmed]
11 The impact of distractions on the usability and intention to use mobile devices for wireless data services
Coursaris, C.K. and Hassanein, K. and Head, M.M. and Bontis, N.
Computers in Human Behavior. 2012; 28(4): 1439-1449
[Pubmed]
12 Working memory capacity modulates habituation rate: Evidence from a cross-modal auditory distraction paradigm
Sörqvist, P. and Nöstl, A. and Halin, N.
Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. 2012; 19(2): 245-250
[Pubmed]
13 Disruption of writing processes by the semanticity of background speech
Sörqvist, P. and Nöstl, A. and Halin, N.
Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. 2012; 53(2): 97-102
[Pubmed]
14 Episodic long-term memory of spoken discourse masked by speech: What is the role for working memory capacity?
Sörqvist, P. and Rönnberg, J.
Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 2012; 55(1): 210-218
[Pubmed]
15 Traffic noise and executive functioning in urban primary school children: The moderating role of gender
Goran Belojevic,Gary W. Evans,Katarina Paunovic,Branko Jakovljevic
Journal of Environmental Psychology. 2012; 32(4): 337
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
16 Disruption of writing processes by the semanticity of background speech
PATRIK SRQVIST,ANATOLE NSTL,NIKLAS HALIN
Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. 2012; 53(2): 97
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
17 Working memory capacity modulates habituation rate: Evidence from a cross-modal auditory distraction paradigm
Patrik Srqvist,Anatole Nstl,Niklas Halin
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. 2012; 19(2): 245
[Pubmed] | [DOI]
18 Cross-modal distraction by background speech: What role for meaning
Marsh, J.E., Jones, D.M.
Noise and Health. 2010; 12(49): 210-216
[Pubmed]



 

Top