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The cocktail party phenomenon revisited: The importance of working memory capacity

Abstract

Wood and Cowan (1995) replicated and extended Moray’s (1959) investigation of thecocktail party phenomenon, which refers to a situation in which one can attend to only part of a noisy environment, yet highly pertinent stimuli such as one’s own name can suddenly capture attention. Both of these previous investigations have shown that approximately 33% of subjects report hearing their own name in an unattended, irrelevant message. Here we show that subjects who detect their name in the irrelevant message have relatively low working-memory capacities, suggesting that they have difficulty blocking out, or inhibiting, distracting information.

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Correspondence to Andrew R. A. Conway.

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This work was supported by NIH Grant R01 HD-21338.

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Conway, A.R.A., Cowan, N. & Bunting, M.F. The cocktail party phenomenon revisited: The importance of working memory capacity. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 8, 331–335 (2001). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03196169

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Keywords

  • Work Memory Capacity
  • Negative Priming
  • Dichotic Listening
  • Cocktail Party
  • Selective Attention Task