Divided attention and memory: evidence of substantial interference effects at retrieval and encoding

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2000 Jun;129(2):155-76. doi: 10.1037//0096-3445.129.2.155.


In 5 divided attention (DA) experiments, students (24 in each experiment) performed visual distracting tasks (e.g., recognition of words, word and digit monitoring) while either simultaneously encoding an auditory word list or engaging in oral free recall of the target word list. DA during retrieval, using either of the word-based distracting tasks, produced relatively larger interference effects than the digit-monitoring task. DA during encoding produced uniformly large interference effects, regardless of the type of distracting task. Results suggest that when attention is divided at retrieval, interference is created only when the memory and concurrent task compete for access to word-specific representational systems; no such specificity is necessary to create interference at encoding. During encoding, memory and concurrent tasks compete primarily for general resources, whereas during retrieval, they compete primarily for representational systems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Recall*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Problem Solving
  • Retention, Psychology
  • Speech Perception*
  • Students / psychology
  • Verbal Learning*