Distraction and predictability: A new paper in press in Brain Research

New research based on data collected by Miriam Kefauver as part of her undergraduate dissertation has been accepted for publication in the journal Brain Research. The paper will form part of a special issue on Prediction and Attention.

The study demonstrates that the semantic distraction yielded by the involuntary processing of task-irrelevant sounds is mediated by its predictive value of the congruency of an upcoming target stimulus.

Reference: Parmentier, F. B. R., & Kefauver, M. (in press). The semantic aftermath of distraction by deviant sounds: Crosstalk interference is mediated by the predictability of semantic congruency. Brain Research.

Abstract: Rare changes in a stream of otherwise repeated task-irrelevant sounds break through selective attention and disrupt performance in an unrelated visual task. This deviance distraction effect emerges because deviant sounds violate the cognitive system’s predictions. In this study we sought to examine whether predictability also mediate the so-called semantic effect whereby behavioral performance suffers from the clash between the involuntary semantic evaluation of irrelevant sounds and the voluntary processing of visual targets (e.g., when participants must categorize a right visual arrow following the presentation of the deviant sound “left”). By manipulating the conditional probabilities of the congruent and incongruent deviant sounds in a left/right arrow categorization task, we elicited implicit predictions about the upcoming target and related response. We observed a linear increase of the semantic effect with the proportion of congruent deviant trials (i.e., as deviant sounds increasingly predicted congruent targets). We conclude that deviant sounds affect response times based on a combination of crosstalk interference and two types of prediction violations: stimulus violations (violations of predictions regarding the identity of upcoming irrelevant sounds) and semantic violations (violations of predictions regarding the target afforded by deviant sounds). We report a three-parameter model that captures all key features of the observed RTs. Overall, our results fit with the view that the brain builds forward models of the environment in order to optimize cognitive processing and that control of one’s attention and actions is called upon when predictions are violated.