The influence of cognitive load on spatial search performance

Kate A. Longstaffe*, Bruce M. Hood, Iain D. Gilchrist

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

During search, executive function enables individuals to direct attention to potential targets, remember locations visited, and inhibit distracting information. In the present study, we investigated these executive processes in large-scale search. In our tasks, participants searched a room containing an array of illuminated locations embedded in the floor. The participants' task was to press the switches at the illuminated locations on the floor so as to locate a target that changed color when pressed. The perceptual salience of the search locations was manipulated by having some locations flashing and some static. Participants were more likely to search at flashing locations, even when they were explicitly informed that the target was equally likely to be at any location. In large-scale search, attention was captured by the perceptual salience of the flashing lights, leading to a bias to explore these targets. Despite this failure of inhibition, participants were able to restrict returns to previously visited locations, a measure of spatial memory performance. Participants were more able to inhibit exploration to flashing locations when they were not required to remember which locations had previously been visited. A concurrent digit-span memory task further disrupted inhibition during search, as did a concurrent auditory attention task. These experiments extend a load theory of attention to large-scale search, which relies on egocentric representations of space. High cognitive load on working memory leads to increased distractor interference, providing evidence for distinct roles for the executive subprocesses of memory and inhibition during large-scale search.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-63
Number of pages15
JournalAttention, Perception, and Psychophysics
Volume76
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2014

Structured keywords

  • Developmental

Keywords

  • Search
  • Executive function
  • Inhibition
  • Attention
  • Memory
  • WORKING-MEMORY CAPACITY
  • ABRUPT VISUAL ONSETS
  • SELECTIVE ATTENTION
  • PERCEPTUAL LOAD
  • OCULOMOTOR CAPTURE
  • NAVIGATION
  • MODEL
  • COLOR
  • TASK
  • EXPLORATION

Cite this