External visual distraction reduces retrieval performance
UBC Student #:19418136
Word Count: 1191
The ability to remain focused and retrieve information in the presence of irrelevant environmental
stimuli can prove to be quite challenging. Irrelevant visual stimulus demands us to divide our attention and
makes it harder for us to focus on our given tasks, whether it may be recognition or recollection.
Recollection can be considered a higher-order cognitive process compared to recognition as it requires us
to retrieve previously learnt material from long term memory. Cognitive performance is dependent on the
success of the process of filtering undesirable incoming information (Wais, Rubens, Boccanfuso, &
Gazzaley, 2010). In the case of retrieval, we will find that fewer options are available for filtering unsolicited
incoming information in the midst of the process leading to a negative impact on the retrieval performance.
The impact of irrelevant visual stimulus on recollection performance is a contentious issue and extensive
research has been conducted to clarify the issue. In order to better interpret the effect of irrelevant visual
stimulus on the performance of recollection, the underlying cognitive mechanisms involved in the process
and possible means of filtration have to be understood fully.
Visual Distraction creates a strain in our lives and affects our goal-directed behavior. Irrelevant
visual stimuli can range from watching television, a cat passing by or simply, any visual stimuli unrelated to
the events of memory, one is attempting to retrieve. Distraction of higher load can even lead to confusion
and if coupled with a high order cognitive process, like recollection, could have a huge impact on the
performance of retrieval(Lavie, 2005).Simply instructing our brains to focus on retrieval alone is not
sufficient to achieve the best performance results of retrieval. Higher load of distraction is found to lead
fewer correct and more incorrect visual and auditory details being recalled according to a study by
Perfect ,Andrade, & Syrett (2012) . To demonstrate , in the experiment, screening an intricate, moving
image resulted in the reduction of accurately recalled target words compared to viewing a static image.
In an effort to fully understand irrelevant visual interference during retrieval process, various
researches have been executed to determine what regions of the brain the distraction is interfering. An
experiment carried out by Wais and his colleagues strive to explain the underlying mechanisms involved in
the interference of the cognitive process( Wais, et.al., 2010).The experiment was divided into two parts
behavioral responses to interference on recollection performance and FMRI (Functional Magnetic 2
Resonance Imaging) . The results of the behavioral experiment revealed that the presence of irrelevant
visual stimuli weakened the performance of the recollection (e.g. fewer correct items being recalled) which
provides support for the hypothesis of visual interference's negative impact on retrieval performance. The
decrease in performance is further explained in neural mechanism terms, whereby, the results are
associated with the interference of functional connectivity concerning the left inferior frontal gyrus,
hippocampus, and visual association cortex of the brain .The network connectivity of the aforementioned
parts of the brain are stipulated to be in support of the recollection when irrelevant stimuli was absent and
found to decline in activity when irrelevant visual distraction was present. Furthermore, bottom up (i.e.
process guided by input) strains are found to be conflicting with top-down selection ( i.e. process guided by
higher level cognitive processes) of previously learnt information , both of which are moderated by a space-
limited frontal control region leading to a decrease in the performance of recollection.
Interestingly, recollection is found to use visual imagery. Previous studies usin