A study by Parmentier and Beaman demonstrates that changing content but not changing rhythm renders irrelevant speech disruptive of verbal serial memory. The study will feature in a Special Issue on Working Memory in the Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology.
Reference: Parmentier, F. B. R., & Beaman, C. P. (in press). Contrasting effects of changing rhythm and content on auditory distraction in immediate memory. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology
Abstract: Across five experiments, the temporal regularity and content of an irrelevant speech stream were varied and their effects on a serial recall task examined. Variations of the content, but not the rhythm, of the irrelevant speech stimuli reliably disrupted serial recall performance in all experiments. Bayesian analyses supported the null hypothesis over the hypothesis that irregular rhythms would disrupt memory to a greater extent than regular rhythms. Pooling the data in a combined analysis revealed that regular presentation of the irrelevant speech was significantly more disruptive to serial recall than irregular presentation. These results are consistent with the idea that auditory distraction is sensitive to both intra-item and inter-item relations and challenge an orienting-based account of auditory distraction.