The influence of distraction on speech processing: How selective is selective attention?

Parhammer*, S. I., Ebersberg*, M., Tippmann*, J., Stärk*, K., Opitz, A., Hinger, B., & Rossi, S. (2019). The influence of distraction on speech processing: How selective is selective attention? In Proceedings of Interspeech 2019 (pp. 3093-3097). doi:10.21437/Interspeech.2019-2699.
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The present study investigated the effects of selective attention on the processing of morphosyntactic errors in unattended parts of speech. Two groups of German native (L1) speakers participated in the present study. Participants listened to sentences in which irregular verbs were manipulated in three different conditions (correct, incorrect but attested ablaut pattern, incorrect and crosslinguistically unattested ablaut pattern). In order to track fast dynamic neural reactions to the stimuli, electroencephalography was used. After each sentence, participants in Experiment 1 performed a semantic judgement task, which deliberately distracted the participants from the syntactic manipulations and directed their attention to the semantic content of the sentence. In Experiment 2, participants carried out a syntactic judgement task, which put their attention on the critical stimuli. The use of two different attentional tasks allowed for investigating the impact of selective attention on speech processing and whether morphosyntactic processing steps are performed automatically. In Experiment 2, the incorrect attested condition elicited a larger N400 component compared to the correct condition, whereas in Experiment 1 no differences between conditions were found. These results suggest that the processing of morphosyntactic violations in irregular verbs is not entirely automatic but seems to be strongly affected by selective attention.
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