Perceptual load has been found to be a powerful determinant of distractibility in laboratory tasks. The present study assessed how the effects of perceptual load on distractibility in the laboratory relate to individual differences in the likelihood of distractibility in daily life. Sixty-one subjects performed a response-competition task in which perceptual load was varied. As expected, individuals reporting high levels of distractibility (on the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire, an established measure of distractibility in daily life) experienced greater distractor interference than did individuals reporting low levels. The critical finding, however, was that this relationship was confined to task conditions of low perceptual load: High perceptual load reduced distractor interference for all subjects, eliminating any individual differences. These findings suggest that the level of perceptual load in a task can predict whether individual differences in distractibility will be found and that high-load modifications of daily tasks may prove useful in preventing unwanted consequences of high distractibility
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