How increasing working memory load can both enhance and reduce distractor processing

Giorgio Fuggetta, Saw Rebecca, Marco Sandrini, Philip Duke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Downloads (Pure)


Contribution: I conceived and designed the three experiments, performed the data collection of experiments, analysed the data and written the paper. We replicated the main findings of Experiment 1a (N=149) in Experiment 1b (N=97) and 1c (N=89).

Whether high working memory (WM) load increases the processing of distracting stimuli, or protects from distraction, is an ongoing debate. Considering the Baddeley’s multicomponent approach to WM, we examined whether there is a dissociable effect between loading the phonological loop or visuospatial sketchpad in selective attention as measured by the degree of distractor processing. Participants performed a delayed match-to-sample task with the presence of a salient (yet task-irrelevant) singleton distractor matching or mismatching the sample during the retention interval. Under high WM load, non-nameable objects reduced distractor processing. Whereas, letters, digits and familiar objects enhanced distractibility. These results suggest that when the limited representation capacity of visuo-spatial sketchpad is exhausted, result in a reduced distractor’s detection. Whereas when the phonological loop and sub-vocal rehearsal function is strained, result in an enhanced distractor’s processing. Thus, increasing WM load can both increase and decrease distractibility depending on which WM component is loaded.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusSubmitted - 5 Feb 2020

Cite this