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      Harnessing the wandering mind: The role of perceptual load

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          Abstract

          Perceptual load is a key determinant of distraction by task-irrelevant stimuli (e.g., Lavie, N. (2005). Distracted and confused?: Selective attention under load. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 75–82). Here we establish the role of perceptual load in determining an internal form of distraction by task-unrelated thoughts (TUTs or “mind-wandering”).

          Four experiments demonstrated reduced frequency of TUTs with high compared to low perceptual load in a visual-search task. Alternative accounts in terms of increased demands on responses, verbal working memory or motivation were ruled out and clear effects of load were found for unintentional TUTs. Individual differences in load effects on internal (TUTs) and external (response-competition) distractors were correlated. These results suggest that exhausting attentional capacity in task-relevant processing under high perceptual load can reduce processing of task-irrelevant information from external and internal sources alike.

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          Most cited references 39

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          Distracted and confused?: selective attention under load.

           Nilli Lavie (2005)
          The ability to remain focused on goal-relevant stimuli in the presence of potentially interfering distractors is crucial for any coherent cognitive function. However, simply instructing people to ignore goal-irrelevant stimuli is not sufficient for preventing their processing. Recent research reveals that distractor processing depends critically on the level and type of load involved in the processing of goal-relevant information. Whereas high perceptual load can eliminate distractor processing, high load on "frontal" cognitive control processes increases distractor processing. These findings provide a resolution to the long-standing early and late selection debate within a load theory of attention that accommodates behavioural and neuroimaging data within a framework that integrates attention research with executive function.
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            Load theory of selective attention and cognitive control.

            A load theory of attention in which distractor rejection depends on the level and type of load involved in current processing was tested. A series of experiments demonstrates that whereas high perceptual load reduces distractor interference, working memory load or dual-task coordination load increases distractor interference. These findings suggest 2 selective attention mechanisms: a perceptual selection mechanism serving to reduce distractor perception in situations of high perceptual load that exhaust perceptual capacity in processing relevant stimuli and a cognitive control mechanism that reduces interference from perceived distractors as long as cognitive control functions are available to maintain current priorities (low cognitive load). This theory resolves the long-standing early versus late selection debate and clarifies the role of cognitive control in selective attention. ((c) 2004 APA, all rights reserved)
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              Abrupt visual onsets and selective attention: evidence from visual search.

              The effect of temporal discontinuity on visual search was assessed by presenting a display in which one item had an abrupt onset, while other items were introduced by gradually removing line segments that camouflaged them. We hypothesized that an abrupt onset in a visual display would capture visual attention, giving this item a processing advantage over items lacking an abrupt leading edge. This prediction was confirmed in Experiment 1. We designed a second experiment to ensure that this finding was due to attentional factors rather than to sensory or perceptual ones. Experiment 3 replicated Experiment 1 and demonstrated that the procedure used to avoid abrupt onset--camouflage removal--did not require a gradual waveform. Implications of these findings for theories of attention are discussed.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                Cognition
                Cognition
                Elsevier
                0010-0277
                1873-7838
                June 2009
                June 2009
                : 111
                : 3
                : 345-355
                Affiliations
                Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Research Department of Cognitive, Perceptual and Brain Sciences, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
                Author notes
                [* ]Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 20 7679 5552; fax: +44 20 74364276. sophie.forster@ 123456gmail.com sophie_forster@ 123456hotmail.com
                Article
                COGNIT1947
                10.1016/j.cognition.2009.02.006
                2706319
                19327760
                770b2948-a9ee-4bcd-8dda-ce70152a7d57
                © 2009 Elsevier B.V.

                This document may be redistributed and reused, subject to certain conditions.

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