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Inability To Avoid Visual Distractions Linked To Poor Short-Term Memory

Last updated March 14, 2016

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Simon Fraser University

John Gaspar, an SFU psychology doctoral student, places 128 electrodes into a cap. The electrodes will pick up tiny changes in the wearer's brain activity.


A new study by Simon Fraser University researchers has found that differences in an individual's working memory capacity correlate with the brain's ability to actively ignore distraction.

Published this week in the journal PNAS, a research team led by psychology professor John McDonald and doctoral student John Gaspar used EEG technology to determine that while 'high-capacity' individuals (those who perform well on memory tasks) are able to suppress distractors, 'low-capacity' individuals are unable to suppress them in time to prevent them from grabbing their attention.

"Distraction is a leading cause of injury and death in driving and other high-stakes environments, and has been associated with attentional deficits, so these results have important implications," says McDonald, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience.

The study is linked to two previous papers in 2009 and 2014 in which McDonald's research team showed that when people search the visual world for a particular object, the brain has distinct mechanisms for both locking attention onto relevant information and for suppressing irrelevant information.

The study is the first to relate these specific visual-search mechanisms to memory and show that the suppression mechanism is absent in individuals with low memory capacity.



The above post is reprinted from materials provided by Simon Fraser UniversityNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.

Disclaimer: DoveMed is not responsible for the adapted accuracy of news releases posted to DoveMed by contributing universities and institutions.

Primary Resource:

Gaspar, J. M., Christie, G. J., Prime, D. J., Jolicœur, P., & McDonald, J. J. (2016). Inability to suppress salient distractors predicts low visual working memory capacity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201523471.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: March 14, 2016
Last updated: March 14, 2016