Do learned alarm sounds interfere with working memory?

Lacherez, Philippe, Donaldson, Liam and Burt, Jennifer S. (2016) Do learned alarm sounds interfere with working memory?. Human Factors, 58 7: 1044-1051. doi:10.1177/0018720816662733


Author Lacherez, Philippe
Donaldson, Liam
Burt, Jennifer S.
Title Do learned alarm sounds interfere with working memory?
Journal name Human Factors   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0018-7208
1547-8181
Publication date 2016-11-01
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1177/0018720816662733
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 58
Issue 7
Start page 1044
End page 1051
Total pages 8
Place of publication Thousand Oaks, CA, United States
Publisher Sage Publications
Language eng
Abstract To assess whether identifying (or ignoring) learned alarm sounds interferes with performance on a task involving working memory.

A number of researchers have suggested that auditory alarms could interfere with working memory in complex task environments, and this could serve as a caution against their use. Changing auditory information has been shown to interfere with serial recall, even when the auditory information is to be ignored. However, previous researchers have not examined well-learned patterns, such as familiar alarms.

One group of participants learned a set of alarms (either a melody, a rhythmic pulse, or a spoken nonword phrase) and subsequently undertook a digits-forward task in three conditions (no alarms, identify the alarm, or ignore the alarm). A comparison group undertook the baseline and ignore conditions but had no prior exposure to the alarms.

All alarms interfered with serial recall when participants were asked to identify them; however, only the nonword phrase interfered with recall when ignored. Moreover, there was no difference between trained and untrained participants in terms of recall performance when ignoring the alarms, suggesting that previous training does not make alarms less ignorable.

Identifying any alarm sound may interfere with immediate working memory; however, spoken alarms may interfere even when ignored.

It is worth considering the importance of alarms in environments requiring high working memory performance and in particular avoiding spoken alarms in such environments.
Formatted abstract
Objective: To assess whether identifying (or ignoring) learned alarm sounds interferes with performance on a task involving working memory.

Background: A number of researchers have suggested that auditory alarms could interfere with working memory in complex task environments, and this could serve as a caution against their use. Changing auditory information has been shown to interfere with serial recall, even when the auditory information is to be ignored. However, previous researchers have not examined well-learned patterns, such as familiar alarms.

Method: One group of participants learned a set of alarms (either a melody, a rhythmic pulse, or a spoken nonword phrase) and subsequently undertook a digits-forward task in three conditions (no alarms, identify the alarm, or ignore the alarm). A comparison group undertook the baseline and ignore conditions but had no prior exposure to the alarms.

Results: All alarms interfered with serial recall when participants were asked to identify them; however, only the nonword phrase interfered with recall when ignored. Moreover, there was no difference between trained and untrained participants in terms of recall performance when ignoring the alarms, suggesting that previous training does not make alarms less ignorable.

Conclusion: Identifying any alarm sound may interfere with immediate working memory; however, spoken alarms may interfere even when ignored.

Application: It is worth considering the importance of alarms in environments requiring high working memory performance and in particular avoiding spoken alarms in such environments.
Keyword Learning
Auditory alarms
Distraction
Interference
Working memory
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: HERDC Pre-Audit
School of Psychology Publications
 
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