More distracted by food irrelevant words when you're hungry

Food distract us more when we're hungry

Food distract us more when we're hungry

In their recently published study, Fabrice Parmentier, Toñi Pacheco and Sara Valero explored whether the distraction by task-irrelevant deviant words is mediated by the extent to which these words relate to our biological needs. in this study, participants were asked to categorize visual digits while ignoring task-irrelevant sounds. On rare occasions these sounds were food-related words or control words (as opposed to a tone). Participants who came to the laboratory in a state of hunger exhibited greater distraction by the irrelevant words than satiated participants. In contrast, satiated participants showed facilitation in ignoring the deviant food-related words. These effects were observed  in the first block of trials only, suggesting rapid semantic saturation thereafter. These results follow up on the work by Parmentier (2008) and demonstrate that irrelevant deviant words undergo semantic processing even when they share no feature with the primary task.

Reference: Parmentier, F. B. R., Pacheco-Unguetti, A. P., & Valero, S. (2018). Food words distract the hungry: Evidence of involuntary semantic processing of task-irrelevant but biologically-relevant unexpected auditory words. PLoSONE 13(1): e0190644.
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Abstract: Rare changes in a stream of otherwise repeated task-irrelevant sounds break through selective attention and disrupt performance in an unrelated visual task by triggering shifts of attention to and from the deviant sound (deviance distraction). Evidence indicates that the involuntary orientation of attention to unexpected sounds is followed by their semantic processing. However, past demonstrations relied on tasks in which the meaning of the deviant sounds overlapped with features of the primary task. Here we examine whether such processing is observed when no such overlap is present but sounds carry some relevance to the participants’ biological need to eat when hungry. We report the results of an experiment in which hungry and satiated participants partook in a cross-modal oddball task in which they categorized visual digits (odd/even) while ignoring task-irrelevant sounds. On most trials the irrelevant sound was a sinewave tone (standard sound). On the remaining trials, deviant sounds consisted of spoken words related to food (food deviants) or control words (control deviants). Questionnaire data confirmed state (but not trait) differences between the two groups with respect to food craving, as well as a greater desire to eat the food corresponding to the food-related words in the hungry relative to the satiated participants. The results of the oddball task revealed that food deviants produced greater distraction (longer response times) than control deviants in hungry participants while the reverse effect was observed in satiated participants. This effect was observed in the first block of trials but disappeared thereafter, reflecting semantic saturation. Our results suggest that (1) the semantic content of deviant sounds is involuntarily processed even when sharing no feature with the primary task; and that (2) distraction by deviant sounds can be modulated by the participants’ biological needs.


Interested in doing a PhD with us? The call for "FPU" applications is out! (deadline: 29/12/2017)

The Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports has published the call for candidates wishing to apply for 4-year PhD studentships. The application process is in two steps:

(1) Candidates interested and meeting the requirements (see below) must apply and will be selected based on academic grades (deadline: 29/12/2017). Candidates must apply through the Ministry's web interface. (see guide to applicants and details of the call).

(2) Candidates who pass the first selection filter will present, together with their prospective PhD supervisor, a research project, CV of both the candidate the PhD supervisor, research record of the group where the candidate would do their PhD.

The full text of the call can be downloaded here. More information can be found here. A guide to applicants is available here.

Interested in studying attention and distraction or serial short-term memory?

Fabrice Parmentier Professor of Cognitive Psychology

Fabrice Parmentier
Professor of Cognitive Psychology

Fabrice Parmentier is looking for potential candidates interested in doing their PhD research on attention and distraction, or on serial short-term memory.

His current research focuses on distraction by unexpected sounds, exploring various aspects of this type of distraction: fundamental cognitive mechanisms (e.g., attention orienting and possible connection to motor control), effect of aging, connection to other cognitive phenomena (e.g., interference, post-error slowing, Stroop-like effects).

Fabrice also has a track record of publications on human serial short-term memory, looking at memory for auditory-spatial and visuo-spatial sequences, the effect of grouping and the effect spatial complexity, or the Hebb repetition effect.

For more information about his research and publication record, check out his personal website, his ResearchGate, ORCID, or Scopus page.

Illustrative examples of studies on attentional distraction or serial short-term memory:

  • Parmentier, F. B. R., Comesaña, M., & Soares, A. P. (2017). Disentangling the effects of word frequency and contextual diversity on serial recall performance. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 70(1), 1-17.
  • Pacheco-Unguetti, A. P., & Parmentier, F. B. R. (2016). Happiness increases distraction by auditory deviant stimuli. British Journal of Psychology, 107(3), 419-433.
  • Leiva, A., Andrés, P., Servera, M., Verbruggen, F., & Parmentier, F. B. R. (2016). The role of age, working memory and response inhibition in deviance distraction: a cross-sectional study. Developmental Psychology, 52(9), 1381-1393.
  • Parmentier, F. B. R. (2016). Deviant sounds yield distraction irrespective of the sounds’ informational value. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 42(6), 837-846.
  • Leiva, A., Parmentier, F. B. R., & Andrés, P. (2015). Aging increases distraction by auditory oddballs in visual, but not auditory tasks. Psychological Research, 79(3), 401-410.
  • Parmentier, F. B. R. (2014). The cognitive determinants of behavioral distraction by deviant auditory stimuli: A review. Psychological Research, 78(3), 321-338.
  • Parmentier, F. B. R. (2008). Towards a cognitive model of distraction by auditory novelty: The role of involuntary attention capture and semantic processing. Cognition, 109, 345-362.
  • Parmentier, F. B. R., Maybery, M. T., Huitson, M., & Jones, D. M. (2008). The perceptual determinants of repetition learning in auditory space. Journal of Memory & Language, 58, 978-997.
  • Parmentier, F. B. R., & Andrés, P. (2006). The impact of path crossing on visuo-spatial serial memory: Encoding or rehearsal effect? Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59, 1867-1874.
  • Parmentier, F. B. R., Elford, G., & Maybery, M. T. (2005). Transitional information in spatial serial memory: Path characteristics affect recall performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 31, 412-427.


Candidate requirements:

  • To have a University degree (obtained after 1st January 2014) and be enrolled on a PhD program in a Spanish University at the time of the application (or be enrolled on an official MSc program in a Spanish University that grants access to a PhD program, or have completed a MSc recognized by the Ministry)
  • To have obtained an average academic mark equal or superior to the marks indicated below:
  • Non-Spanish candidates must present an official certificate accrediting their knowledge of Spanish (level B2 or above)

Electroencephalographic (EEG) dynamics and body skin temperature as markers of attentional fluctuations


Congratulations to Enrique Molina for his latest publication entitled "Electroencephalographic and peripheral temperature dynamics during a prolonged psychomotor vigilance task".

The work, just accepted for publication in Accident; Analysis and Prevention explores the relationship between sustained attention performance, peripheral temperature and time-frequency signatures of cortical activity.

Molina, E., Sanabria, D., Jung, T.-P., & Correa, A. (2017). Electroencephalographic and peripheral temperature dynamics during a prolonged psychomotor vigilance task. Paper in press in Accident Analysis & Prevention.

Attention lapses and fatigue are a main source of impaired performance that can lead to accidents. This study analyzed both electroencephalographic (EEG) dynamics and body skin temperature as markers of attentional fluctuations in non-sleep deprived subjects during a 45 minutes Psychomotor Vigilance Task (PVT). Independent Component Analysis and time- frequency analysis were used to evaluate the EEG data. Results showed a positive association between distal and distal-to-proximal gradient (DPG) temperatures and reaction time (RT); increments in EEG power in alpha-, theta- and beta-band frequencies in parieto-occipital, central-medial and frontal components, were associated with poor performance (slower RT) in the task. This generalized power increment fits with an increased activity in the default mode network, associated with attention lapses. This study highlights the potential use of the PVT as a tool to obtain individual physiological indices of vigilance and fatigue that could be generalized to other vigilance tasks typically performed in occupational settings.

Congratulations to Irune on her latest publication!

Irune's study, carried out with colleagues at the University of Oxford and the University of Barcelona, investigated the influence of language codes in the spatial representation of auditory pitch and loudness. The results show that, compared to Spanish and Catalan speakers, English speaker exhibit a greater degree of interaction between a sound's pitch and the spatial positioning of response buttons used to categorize that pitch as high or low. These findings provide new evidence of the overlap interplay between the spatial representations associated with language and pitch processing.

Fernandez-Prieto, I., Spence, C., Pons, F., & Navarra, J. (2017). Does Language Influence the Vertical Representation of Auditory Pitch and Loudness. I-Perception, 8(3), 1-11, doi: 10.1177/2041669517716183.

Neurocog at ESCoP 2017

ESCoP 2017, Potsdam, 3-6 September

ESCoP 2017, Potsdam, 3-6 September

The 20th Conference of the European Society for Cognitive Psychology (ESCoP) is kicking off this September 3rd in Potsdam, Germany. The meeting, held every four years, will gather hundreds of researchers in cognitive psychology and related. Our group will be present there with three presentations by Alicia Leiva, Pilar Andrés and Fabrice Parmentier.

Fabrice Parmentier's will present some of his latest work on deviance distraction. The talk will be part of a symposium entitled "Cognition at the brink of failure: The multiple facets of auditory distraction" organized by Stefan Berti (University of Mainz, Germany) and János Horvñath (Hungarian Academy of Science). The presentation will describe recent work suggesting that deviant sounds cause behavioral distraction by triggering an orientation response away from the task at hand and by perturbing ongoing action plans.

Alicia Leiva, Pilar Andrés and Fabrice Parmentier will present two posters. One presents work investigating the relation between deviance distraction, working memory capacity and response inhibition in children, young and older adults. The study concludes that deviance distraction and its variations across age groups are not accounted for by variations in working memory capacity or response inhibition. The other poster presents a new analysis of past data on the effect of aging on cross-modal deviance distraction, showing that this effect remains visible using a relative measure of deviance distraction controlling for variations in overall response speed.