Cross-modal selective attention: on the difficulty of ignoring sounds at the locus of visual attention.
Spence C., Ranson J., Driver J.
In three experiments, we investigated whether the ease with which distracting sounds can be ignored depends on their distance from fixation and from attended visual events. In the first experiment, participants shadowed an auditory stream of words presented behind their heads, while simultaneously fixating visual lip-read information consistent with the relevant auditory stream, or meaningless "chewing" lip movements. An irrelevant auditory stream of words, which participants had to ignore, was presented either from the same side as the fixated visual stream or from the opposite side. Selective shadowing was less accurate in the former condition, implying that distracting sounds are harder to ignore when fixated. Furthermore, the impairment when fixating toward distractor sounds was greater when speaking lips were fixated than when chewing lips were fixated, suggesting that people find it particularly difficult to ignore sounds at locations that are actively attended for visual lipreading rather than merely passively fixated. Experiments 2 and 3 tested whether these results are specific to cross-modal links in speech perception by replacing the visual lip movements with a rapidly changing stream of meaningless visual shapes. The auditory task was again shadowing, but the active visual task was now monitoring for a specific visual shape at one location. A decrement in shadowing was again observed when participants passively fixated toward the irrelevant auditory stream. This decrement was larger when participants performed a difficult active visual task there versus fixating, but not for a less demanding visual task versus fixation. The implications for cross-modal links in spatial attention are discussed.