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An empirical investigation of distraction by unexpected auditory and vibratiory stimuli

Research project Unexpected and unwanted sounds can distract and capture the attention from an ongoing task. Have unexpected vibrations the same ability to distraction? What are the similarities and differences between the two modalities?

Human's ability to pay attention to stimuli is constantly enabled to receive information through our senses. To be able to function well surrounded by constant exposure to different stimuli requires efficient filtration of all the irrelevant information that demands attention. In some cases, it is important to avoid distraction, but sometimes the discovery of unexpected but important stimuli of the utmost importance (eg alarm in hospital) .Studies about how attention is caught by unexpected vibration signals are few. In this Project we wanted to study how unexpected vibration signals affect distraction and what similarities and differences there are in relation to sound.

Project overview

Project period:

2012-01-01 2016-12-31


The Swedish Research Council, 2013-2016: SEK 3,700,000

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences

Research area


Project description

The involuntary detection of novel stimuli in our environment is an essential cognitive function guiding the orientation of our attention
toward potentially important stimuli. This ineluctable orienting of attention comes at a cost, however, in the form of a temporary
disruption of ongoing performance, that is, by distracting us away from what we are doing. The impact of rare distracters on
performance (novelty distraction) has so far been studied with auditory stimuli, but the phenomenon remains poorly accounted for at
the theoretical level. More critically, there has been no systematic research aiming to establish whether novelty distraction may obey
general principles in modalities other than auditory. Yet some work, including our recent finding of the effect in the tactile modality,
suggests that such general principles may exist. Our program of work, comprising 19 experiments to be administered to human
participants, is carefully designed to provide the first systematic empirical study of novelty distraction by auditory and vibro-tactile
stimuli. We plan to systematically investigate seven distinct key functional characteristics and identify for the first time general
theoretical principles applying to novelty distraction irrespective of sensory modality, and, doing so, challenge some commonly
accepted views about novelty distraction emanating from past auditory studies.
Keywords: Attention, Distraction, Tactile, Auditory, Oddball,Vibration,Oddball, Cross-modal,
Latest update: 2018-08-17