Load theory of selective attention and cognitive control

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2004 Sep;133(3):339-54. doi: 10.1037/0096-3445.133.3.339.


A load theory of attention in which distractor rejection depends on the level and type of load involved in current processing was tested. A series of experiments demonstrates that whereas high perceptual load reduces distractor interference, working memory load or dual-task coordination load increases distractor interference. These findings suggest 2 selective attention mechanisms: a perceptual selection mechanism serving to reduce distractor perception in situations of high perceptual load that exhaust perceptual capacity in processing relevant stimuli and a cognitive control mechanism that reduces interference from perceived distractors as long as cognitive control functions are available to maintain current priorities (low cognitive load). This theory resolves the long-standing early versus late selection debate and clarifies the role of cognitive control in selective attention.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attention*
  • Cognition*
  • Humans
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Models, Psychological
  • United Kingdom
  • Visual Perception*