Differential mechanisms of cognitive impairment due to task-irrelevant sounds in children and adults

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DFG Sachbeihilfe
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"Whether and to what extent task-irrelevant background sounds disrupt cognitive performance depends on characteristics of the tasks, the sounds, and the individuals exposed. The interactions of these variables are still unresolved. The proposed joint project involving acoustics (Fels, RWTH Aachen), cognitive psychology (Schlittmeier, TU Kaiserslautern), and developmental psychology (Klatte/Lachmann, TU Kaiserslautern) further elucidates the cognitive mechanisms underlying sound-induced performance decrements, as well as their dependencies on the auditory-perceptive authenticity of the auditory scene in which cognitive performance is assessed. The project aims (1) to further test the two independent mechanisms of sound-induced disruption proposed in the literature, i.e., attentional capture vs. specific interference between automatic sound processing and intentional processes involved in task performance. Furthermore (2), we aim to analyze the nature of specific interference between soundand task-related processes. Research in this field focused on immediate serial recall of visual items, and the dominant view states that sound-induced disruption results from a conflict between abstract order cues of auditory and visual origin. According to this “changingstate”- account, the mechanism of disruption is the same for speech and non-speech sounds, and for verbal and non-verbal memory items. In contrast, we assume a special role of speech, in that background speech specifically interferes with phonological processing. In the proposed experiments, sound and task characteristics are varied systematically, while accounting for potential moderating effects of individual attentional control and phonological skills. These variables are included through individual diagnostic tests, and by comparing children and adults and children with typical versus impaired phonological development, respectively. Furthermore (3), the project examines whether the performance effects observed with basic recording and reproduction techniques (i.e., headphone presentation of mono recordings) are comparable to the effects of plausible acoustic scenarios generated and presented using up-todate recording and reproduction technology (e.g., auralization, individual HRTFs, head-related transfer functions). The plausibility of the acoustic scenarios is further increased by using different sound sources (static and/or moving sources) placed at different positions. These two aspects (on the one hand the plausible spatial representation of sources and on the other hand moving sources) have only sparsely been considered in research on cognitive noise effects so far. We expect sound-induced distraction to increase with increasing complexity and authenticity of the acoustic scenarios. The joint efforts of experts from cognitive psychology, developmental psychology, and acoustics in the proposed project create synergies, which cannot be achieved by each of these disciplines on its own."