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First paper on distraction by vibrotactile novelty in press in Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance

The results of our first study on distraction by deviant tactile stimuli has been accepted for publication in JEP:HPP. The study constitutes the first step of a program of work aiming at establishing the cognitive mechanisms underpinning novelty distraction in the tactile modality and to compare them to those identified in other sensory modalities.

Summary: Past research demonstrates that the occurrence of unexpected task-irrelevant changes in the auditory or visual sensory channels capture attention in an obligatory fashion, hindering behavioral performance in ongoing auditory or visual categorization tasks and generating orientation and re-orientation electrophysiological responses. We report the first experiment extending the behavioral study of cross-modal distraction to tactile novelty. Using a vibrotactile-visual cross-modal oddball task and a bespoke hand-arm vibration device, we found that participants were significantly slower at categorizing the parity of visually presented digits following a rare and unexpected change in vibrotactile stimulation (novelty distraction), and that this effect extended to the subsequent trial (post-novelty distraction). These results, presented on the graph below, are in line with past research on auditory and visual novelty and fit the proposition of common and a-modal cognitive mechanisms for the involuntary detection of change.

Our study establishes that unexpected vibrotactile novel stimuli capture attention away from an ongoing visual task in a functionally identical way to that reported elsewhere for auditory and visual novel stimuli. This capture resulted in behavioral novelty and post-novelty distraction. Interpreted in the context of similar effects in auditory and visual, cross-modal and mono-modal oddball tasks, and given the proposition of common underpinning neural mechanisms, a unitary account of novelty and post-novelty distraction seems enviable and may potentially involve the reconfiguration of mental task sets.