Distracted and confused? Brain mechanisms and psychological function of attention under load
The ability to remain focused on goal-relevant stimuli in the presence of potentially interfering distractors is crucial for any coherent cognitive function. However, the intention to ignore goal-irrelevant stimuli does not in its own prevent distractor processing. In this talk I describe recent behavioral, neuroimaging and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) experiments from my lab testing the Load Theory of Attention (e.g. Lavie, 2005 TICS) in which distractor processing and related neural activity depend 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. The studies described also address the relationship of attention and awareness, cross modal attention, executive function, and individual differences in attention and distractibility.