Irrelevant Speech Effect

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Eight students participated in a study of the Irrelevant Speech Effect. Irrelevant speech disrupts immediate serial recall. In this study we test the disruptive effects of irrelevant speech on serial recall. In this experiment participants saw a list of randomly ordered digits 1-9. During the some trials they heard irrelevant speech in the background, while other trials were quiet. This irrelevant speech was a passage from Franz Kafka in German (Francis, Neath, & VanHorn, 2008). We found a main effect of Trial Type, which were the quiet and irrelevant speech background conditions. This is evidence that the irrelevant speech effect did take place.

Irrelevant Speech Effect
The irrelevant speech effect is the impairment if performance in memory tasks as a result of irrelevant background speech (Colle & Welsh, 1976; Jones & Macken, 1993; LeCompte, Neely & Wilson, 1997). Previous research has found that irrelevant speech impairs serial recall tasks, so our experiment sets out to test this research on immediate serial recall. Irrelevant speech is present in our everyday life. For instance, when a student is at school studying they are often subject to the irrelevant speech of other students. This can be very distracting, and affect their ability to take in the information that they are trying to learn. Irrelevant speech is also common to many other environments, such as work environments. Performance within workplace situations such as schoolrooms, open-plan offices or trading areas might benefit from a reduction in auditory distraction (Beaman, 2005).

The irrelevant speech effect also has other important suggestions about the nature of memory. Previous research has proposed that auditory stimuli, such as irrelevant speech, are automatically entered into a phonological store where they are represented as phonemes. Visual stimuli, on the other hand, have to be rehearsed subvocally and then translated into phonemes to be represented in the phonological store (Salamé, 1982: Baddeley, 1989: LeCompte, Neely & Wilson, 1997). This is why irrelevant speech effects memory. A person sees visual stimuli while hearing auditory stimuli. They are trying to rehearse the visual stimuli subvocally in their head while they have the auditory stimuli also entering into their phonological loop, which causes confusion, and thus impairment to recall.

In the present experiment, we tested the effects or irrelevant speech to the immediate recall of a list of digits ranging from 1-9. The irrelevant speech was present on some trials while others were quiet. The irrelevant speech in our experiment was a passage from Franz Kafka in German, so participants in our study weren’t able to understand the speech. However, it still served as a distractor from the visual stimuli. In our experiment we found that trial type, quiet or irrelevant speech, affected the immediate recall of the list of numbers. This is evidence that Irrelevant Speech Effect did take place.

The participants were 8 undergraduates (7 female) in a Human Learning and Performance course at the University of North Florida. Participation satisfied a partial course requirement. We added their data to results from previous semesters to bring the total number of participants to twenty-four.
Each participant worked at a Dell OptiPlex 780 computer equipped with a standard keyboard, monitor, and mouse. Participants wore headphones for auditory stimuli. Each computer ran under Windows Vista. CogLab 2.0 (Francis, Neath, and Van Horn, 2008) presented the stimuli and recorded the responses.

Each participant sat approximately 2 feet from his or her monitor with their hard on the mouse. To begin each trial, the participant clicked an onscreen Next Trial button. On each trial the participant either saw or heard the digits 1 through 9 in random order. Then, an onscreen keypad...
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