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Matthew S. Cain, Stephen R. Mitroff; Distractor filtering in media multitaskers. Journal of Vision 2010;10(7):260. doi: 10.1167/10.7.260.
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Despite the near-ubiquity of visual search, performance can differ wildly from person to person, especially under distracting conditions. Recent research suggests that extensive exposure to certain everyday activities (e.g., playing action video games, speaking a second language, media multitasking) may be able to enhance search performance. Here we explored individual differences in frequency of media multitasking (e.g., watching TV while reading or playing video games while talking on the phone) to investigate whether this common behavior can impact the ability to filter out distractions during visual search. Participants searched simple arrays of objects for a shape singleton (i.e., a circle among squares). Half the arrays also contained a color singleton (i.e., a red shape among green shapes). Each participant completed two conditions; in the ‘Never’ blocks participants were instructed that the color singleton distractor would never be the target shape singleton, and in the ‘Sometimes’(tm) blocks they were instructed that it could sometimes be the target. Previous work has shown that participants can successfully use this instructional information to improve performance in Never blocks by exercising top-down control to filter out irrelevant singletons. Here we found that overall (collapsed across blocks), media multitaskers responded more quickly than non-multitaskers. z-Transformed results revealed specific ways participants differed; in the Never blocks multitaskers performed relatively worse than non-multitaskers when distractors were present, but both groups showed comparable distractor-related slowdowns in the Sometimes blocks when top-down distractor filtering was not necessary. These results suggest that media multitaskers did not use the information about the distractor'(tm)s irrelevance in the Never blocks to filter it out to the same degree as non-multitaskers. This is consistent with the idea that those who routinely consume multiple media in daily life demonstrate poorer filtering of irrelevant information in a laboratory setting.
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