“Unattended, distracting or irrelevant”: Theoretical implications of terminological choices in auditory selective attention research

Shiri Makov, Danna Pinto, Paz Har-shai Yahav, Lee M. Miller, Elana Zion Golumbic

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

2 Scopus citations


For seventy years, auditory selective attention research has focused on studying the cognitive mechanisms of prioritizing the processing a ‘main’ task-relevant stimulus, in the presence of ‘other’ stimuli. However, a closer look at this body of literature reveals deep empirical inconsistencies and theoretical confusion regarding the extent to which this ‘other’ stimulus is processed. We argue that many key debates regarding attention arise, at least in part, from inappropriate terminological choices for experimental variables that may not accurately map onto the cognitive constructs they are meant to describe. Here we critically review the more common or disruptive terminological ambiguities, differentiate between methodology-based and theory-derived terms, and unpack the theoretical assumptions underlying different terminological choices. Particularly, we offer an in-depth analysis of the terms ‘unattended’ and ‘distractor’ and demonstrate how their use can lead to conflicting theoretical inferences. We also offer a framework for thinking about terminology in a more productive and precise way, in hope of fostering more productive debates and promoting more nuanced and accurate cognitive models of selective attention.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105313
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by Israel Science Foundation grant # 2339/20 (to EZG), and by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs through the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) Hearing Restoration Research Program (HRRP) under Award No. W81XWH-20-1-0485 (to LMM). Opinions, interpretations, conclusions, and recommendations are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by the Department of Defense.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier B.V.


  • Cocktail party
  • Distraction
  • Ignoring
  • Selective attention
  • Speech processing


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