The effect of deviant sounds on eye movements during reading

eye tracking.jpg

In a study by Vasilev, Parmentier, Angele and Kirkby just accepted for publication in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, we investigated the effect of deviant sounds on eye movements during a reading task. Our study shows for the first time that unexpected sounds caused longer fixations on the word immediately following this sound, which we interpret as the result of a disruption of the programming of the next saccade. This work is part of a collaboration with Martin Vasilev, Berhnard Angele and Julie Kirkby from Bournemouth University.

Vasilev, M. R., Parmentier, F. B. R., Angele, B., & Kirkby, J. A. (in press). Distraction by deviant sounds during reading An eye-movement study. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology.

Abstract: Oddball studies have shown that sounds unexpectedly deviating from an otherwise repeated sequence capture attention away from the task at hand. While such distraction is typically regarded as potentially important in everyday life, previous work has so far not examined how deviant sounds affect performance on more complex daily tasks. In this study, we developed a new method to examine whether deviant sounds can disrupt reading performance by recording participants’ eye-movements. Participants read single sentences in silence and while listening to task-irrelevant sounds. In the latter condition, a 50-ms sound was played contingent on the fixation of five target words in the sentence. On most occasions, the same tone was presented (standard sound), while on rare and unexpected occasions it was replaced by white noise (deviant sound). The deviant sound resulted in significantly longer fixation durations on the target words relative to the standard sound. A time course analysis showed that the deviant sound began to affect fixation durations around 180 ms after fixation onset. Furthermore, deviance distraction was not modulated by the lexical frequency of target words. In summary, fixation durations on the target words were longer immediately after the presentation of the deviant sound, but there was no evidence that it interfered with the lexical processing of these words. The present results are in line with the recent proposition that deviant sounds yield a temporary motor suppression and suggest that deviant sounds likely inhibit the programming of the next saccade.