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Submit a Manuscript to the Journal
Journal of Cognitive Psychology

For a Special Issue on
Emerging Perspectives on Distraction and Task Interruptions: Metacognition, Cognitive Control, and Facilitation

Abstract deadline
06 June 2022

Manuscript deadline
09 April 2023

Cover image - Journal of Cognitive Psychology

Special Issue Editor(s)

John Everett Marsh, University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK, and Luleå University of Technology, Luleå, Sweden
[email protected]

Raoul Bell, Heinrich-Heine, Universität Düsseldorf, Germany
[email protected]

Jan P. Röer, Witten/Herdecke University, Germany
[email protected]

Helen M. Hodgetts, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff, UK and Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
[email protected]

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Emerging Perspectives on Distraction and Task Interruptions: Metacognition, Cognitive Control, and Facilitation

Summary

Modern technology allows for the control of learning and work environments to an unprecedented degree. Therefore, the focus of research shifts from how learning and work performance are passively affected by environmental factors to how people actively shape their own learning and work experiences. This includes task-irrelevant stimuli and task interruptions. For instance, modern headphones allow you to switch between two modes: Active noise cancelling eliminates all background sounds while acoustic transparency allows certain signals to pass through the headphones, creating a customizable audio space. Modern devices also allow us to plan certain task interruptions (for example, by email alerts) in advance. This gives users unprecedented autonomy over their learning and work environments. However, increased control does not necessarily imply that these environments are free of distraction and interruptions. In fact, quite the opposite is true: Modern-day digital learning and work environments are full of distractions and interruptions. With increased control of the users over their learning and work environments, new basic research questions arise that emphasize the active role of the individual in shaping their own learning and work experiences:

  • Are distraction and task interruptions always harmful or are they sometimes helpful?
  • Are people capable of distinguishing between harmful and helpful task-irrelevant stimuli and activities?
  • Can the harmful aspects of distractions and interruptions be brought under cognitive control?

In the proposed Special Issue, we will focus on these emerging trends in distraction and attention.

Metacognition

Modern technology gives us control over our environments, and this may imply that people have to make decisions about whether they accept, prevent or even actively create certain types of distraction and task interruptions. This leads to the question of whether people have metacognitive insight into the degree to which distraction and task interruptions have positive or negative effects on their cognitive performance. An emerging topic in auditory-distraction research is thus whether people can correctly assess the disruptive or helpful effects of task-irrelevant stimuli and activities on their performance (Beaman et al., 2014; Bell et al., 2022; Hanczakowski et al., 2018; Katter & Bryce, 2022; Röer, Rummel, et al., 2017). The metacognition of auditory distraction is not yet fully understood, as findings currently paint a mixed picture of the degree to which people are metacognitively aware of the effects of distractions and interruptions. Furthermore, while some studies indicate that people are well aware of the effects of changing auditory stimuli on their performance (Bell et al., 2022), others seem to indicate that they nevertheless fail to exert appropriate metacognitive control to combat distraction (Beaman et al., 2014; Hanczakowski et al., 2018). More basic research is needed on how people metacognitively monitor the effects of distractions and interruptions on their performance.

 

Cognitive Control

Linked to the question of the metacognitive monitoring of distraction is another, namely to what degree the realization that distractions and interruptions hurt performance results in efforts to compensate for the negative performance effects of distractions and interruptions. Is it possible to counteract the negative effects of distractions and interruptions with increased cognitive control? In recent years this question has been the subject of considerable attention and debate (Bell et al., 2021; Bell et al., 2017; Hughes et al., 2013; Marsh et al., 2020; Marsh et al., 2015; Parmentier & Hebrero, 2013). More basic research is necessary to understand the inconsistent findings and to gain theoretical and practical insights into how unwanted effects of distractions and interruptions can be brought under cognitive control.

 

Disruption vs. Facilitation

Acoustic alarms that alert us to important changes in the environment highlight that distraction is not a fault of the cognitive system. Instead, distraction has the important adaptive function of processing ignored information to such an extent that the cognitive system is able to respond to important changes in the environment, such as the sound of an approaching jaguar in evolutionary times or the supervisor’s email in modern times. For decades, however, research has only focused on the negative aspects of distraction. Only recently, the positive aspects have come to light. Positive aspects of distraction have, as yet, been most exhaustively explored in relation to the semantic processing of the distractors. For example, the semantic processing of nominally task-irrelevant distractors can have immediate (Hanczakowski et al., 2017) and delayed (Röer, Körner, et al., 2017) advantages on later tasks through semantic facilitation. Distraction and task interruptions can help to overcome cognitive blockades in creative problem solving (Ball et al., 2015). Older adults, in particular, can benefit from an increased semantic processing of task-irrelevant information because of their broader attentional focus (Weeks & Hasher, 2014). Distraction could also help interrupt unwanted behaviours or unwanted cognitions, or can alert us to important changes in the auditory environment, which is relevant for the design of auditory alarms (e.g., Ljungberg & Parmentier, 2012). This offers the possibility of planned interruptions to be integrated into modern work processes to regenerate cognitive performance (e.g., Ariga & Lleras, 2011). However, important aspects remain unexplored. In order to be able to use distractions and interruptions in a targeted manner, more basic research is needed that focuses on the potential positive side effects of distraction and interruptions.

Submission Instructions

Article Proposals

Proposals are welcome for Full (Regular) Articles, Brief Articles, and Reviews in any cognitive domain related to metacognition, cognitive control and facilitatory and/or inhibitory effects of auditory distraction on human performance.

Intended Audience

This Special Issue will be relevant to those who are interested in distraction and more generally in attention, memory, metacognition, cognitive control and differential effects (positive and negative) of distraction on human performance.

Abstracts of proposals for articles are limited to 300 words. The deadline for abstract proposals is 6th June 2022.

Please send these abstract proposals directly to John E. Marsh ([email protected]), Raoul Bell ([email protected]), Jan P. Röer ([email protected]) and Helen M. Hodgetts ([email protected]).

Estimated Timeline for Special Issue

Call for abstract proposals open from March 7th 2022 to 6th June 2022.

Acceptance of proposals begins June 13th 2022.

Invited submissions based on proposals due by April 9th 2023. 

Review process from April 12th 2023 to November 12th 2023.

Anticipated publication date March 2024.

Instructions for AuthorsSubmit an Article

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