The role of working memory in auditory selective attention

Polly Dalton, Valerio Santangelo, Charles Spence

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A growing body of research now demonstrates that working memory plays an important role in controlling the extent to which irrelevant visual distractors are processed during visual selective attention tasks (e.g., Lavie, Hirst, De Fockert, Viding, 2004). Recently, it has been shown that the successful selection of tactile information also depends on the availability of working memory (Dalton, Lavie, Spence, 2009). Here, we investigate whether working memory plays a role in auditory selective attention. Participants focused their attention on short continuous bursts of white noise (targets) while attempting to ignore pulsed bursts of noise (distractors). Distractor interference in this auditory task, as measured in terms of the difference in performance between congruent and incongruent distractor trials, increased significantly under high (vs. low) load in a concurrent working-memory task. These results provide the first evidence demonstrating a causal role for working memory in reducing interference by irrelevant auditory distractors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2126-2132
Number of pages7
JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009


  • Auditory attention
  • Load theory
  • Selective attention
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Psychology(all)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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