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Keywords:

  • distraction;
  • individual differences;
  • noise;
  • selective attention;
  • sound;
  • working memory capacity

Abstract

This paper reviews the current literature on individual differences in susceptibility to the effects of background sound on visual-verbal task performance. A large body of evidence suggests that individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) underpin individual differences in susceptibility to auditory distraction in most tasks and contexts. Specifically, high WMC is associated with a more steadfast locus of attention (thus overruling the call for attention that background noise may evoke) and a more constrained auditory-sensory gating (i.e., less processing of the background sound). The relation between WMC and distractibility is a general framework that may also explain distractibility differences between populations that differ along variables that covary with WMC (such as age, developmental disorders, and personality traits). A neurocognitive task-engagement/distraction trade-off (TEDTOFF) model that summarizes current knowledge is outlined and directions for future research are proposed.