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Concentration: the neural underpinnings of how cognitive load shields against distraction
University of Gävle, Faculty of Engineering and Sustainable Development, Department of Building, Energy and Environmental Engineering, Environmental psychology. Linnaeus Centre HEAD, Swedish Institute for Disability Research, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden . (Miljöpsykologi)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-7584-2275
Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden .
Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden .
Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden .
2016 (English)In: Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, ISSN 1662-5161, E-ISSN 1662-5161, Vol. 10, 221Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Whether cognitive load and other aspects of task difficulty increases or decreases distractibility is subject of much debate in contemporary psychology. One camp argues that cognitive load usurps executive resources, which otherwise could be used for attentional control, and therefore cognitive load increases distraction. The other camp argues that cognitive load demands high levels of concentration (focal task engagement), which suppresses peripheral processing and therefore decreases distraction. In this article, we employed an functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) protocol to explore whether higher cognitive load in a visually-presented task suppresses task-irrelevant auditory processing in cortical and subcortical areas. The results show that selectively attending to an auditory stimulus facilitates its neural processing in the auditory cortex, and switching the locus-of-attention to the visual modality decreases the neural response in the auditory cortex. When the cognitive load of the task presented in the visual modality increases, the neural response to the auditory stimulus is further suppressed, along with increased activity in networks related to effortful attention. Taken together, the results suggest that higher cognitive load decreases peripheral processing of task-irrelevant information which decreases distractibility as a side effect of the increased activity in a focused-attention network.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. Vol. 10, 221
Keyword [en]
working memory, selective attention, concentration, cognitive load, distraction
National Category
Psychology (excluding Applied Psychology)
URN: urn:nbn:se:hig:diva-21437DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2016.00221ISI: 000376059100002PubMedID: 27242485ScopusID: 2-s2.0-84973334378OAI: oai:DiVA.org:hig-21437DiVA: diva2:922723
Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, P11-0617:1Swedish Research Council, 2015-01116
Available from: 2016-04-25 Created: 2016-04-25 Last updated: 2016-11-18Bibliographically approved

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