Distracted and confused?: selective attention under load

Trends Cogn Sci. 2005 Feb;9(2):75-82. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.12.004.


The ability to remain focused on goal-relevant stimuli in the presence of potentially interfering distractors is crucial for any coherent cognitive function. However, simply instructing people to ignore goal-irrelevant stimuli is not sufficient for preventing their processing. Recent research reveals that distractor processing depends critically on the level and type of load involved in the processing of goal-relevant information. Whereas high perceptual load can eliminate distractor processing, high load on "frontal" cognitive control processes increases distractor processing. These findings provide a resolution to the long-standing early and late selection debate within a load theory of attention that accommodates behavioural and neuroimaging data within a framework that integrates attention research with executive function.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Field Dependence-Independence*
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Goals
  • Humans
  • Mental Processes / physiology*
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motivation
  • Perceptual Masking / physiology*