Differential Impact of Interference on Internally- and Externally-Directed Attention
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-20498-8
Attention can be oriented externally to the environment or internally to the mind, and can be derailed by interference from irrelevant information originating from either external or internal sources. However, few studies have explored the nature and underlying mechanisms of the interaction between different attentional orientations and different sources of interference. We investigated how externally- and internally-directed attention was impacted by external distraction, how this modulated internal distraction, and whether these interactions were affected by healthy aging. Healthy younger and older adults performed both an externally-oriented visual detection task and an internally-oriented mental rotation task, performed with and without auditory sound delivered through headphones. We found that the addition of auditory sound induced a significant decrease in task performance in both younger and older adults on the visual discrimination task, and this was accompanied by a shift in the type of distractions reported (from internal to external). On the internally-oriented task, auditory sound only affected performance in older adults. These results suggest that the impact of external distractions differentially impacts performance on tasks with internal, as opposed to external, attentional orientations. Further, internal distractibility is affected by the presence of external sound and increased suppression of internal distraction.