Keynote address at the 13th Annual Meeting of the Portuguese Society for Experimental Psychology

Prof. Fabrice Parmentier delivering the keynote address at the 13th Annual Meeting of the APPE (April 13th, 2018)

Prof. Fabrice Parmentier delivering the keynote address at the 13th Annual Meeting of the APPE (April 13th, 2018)

On April 13th-14th, the University of Minho hosted the 13th Annual Meeting of the Portuguese Society for Experimental Psychology (APPE), an exciting and stimulating event gathering researchers in all fields of experimental psychology from all around Portugal and, as this year's Keynote Speaker, Prof. Fabrice Parmentier.

Keynote conference by Fabrice Parmentier: Why do unexpected sounds distract us?

Unexpected auditory stimuli presented in the context of an otherwise repetitive or structured acoustic background ineluctably break through selective attention filters and capture our attention. Past research abundantly described the electrophysiological markers of such phenomenon. Unexpected sounds also affect behavioral performance in an ongoing, unrelated, task, resulting in distraction. Such distraction typically translates in slower response to target stimuli. While this effect was initially regarded as a simple byproduct of an involuntary orienting response towards novelty, recent studies have shed light on the cognitive mechanisms underpinning this effect and unearthed a number of factors mediating it. In this talk, I will review experimental results aiming to identify the cognitive determinants of this type of distraction, its mediation by some stimulus- and participant-based characteristics, and present some recent evidence suggesting that unexpected sounds might disrupt motor actions.

Electroencephalographic and skin temperature indices of vigilance and inhibitory control

Fluctuations of attention can be monitored using EEG and skin temperature. Congratulations to Enrique Molina for his latest publication!

Lara, T., Molina, E., Madrid, J. A., & Correa, A. (2018). Electroencephalographic and skin temperature indices of vigilance and inhibitory control, Manuscript in press in Psicologica.

Neurophysiological markers of the ability to sustain attention and exert inhibitory control of inappropriate responses have usually relied on neuroimaging methods, which are not easily applicable to real-world settings. The current research tested the ability of electroencephalographic and skin temperature markers to predict performance during the Sustained Attention to Response Task (SART), which demands vigilance and inhibitory control. In Experiment 1, we recorded the electroencephalogram (EEG) during the performance of SART and found that eventrelated potentials underlying inhibitory control (N1 and N2/P3) were influenced by a time on task effect, suggesting a decrement in attentional resources necessary for optimal inhibitory control. In Experiments 2 and 3, we recorded skin temperatures (distal, proximal and the distal-proximal temperature gradient –DPG) and found that 2 they were sensitive to differential demands of mental workload, and that they were related to behavioural performance in the SART. This study suggests that the recording of EEG and skin temperature may be used to monitor fluctuations of attention in natural settings, although further research should clarify the exact psychological interpretation of these physiological indices.

Download the paper here

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.
[Download here]

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)