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Further Evidence Regarding Children's Response to Distraction: A Reply to Anderson and Well

Hale, Gordon A.
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Bulletin
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
Auditory Stimuli, Elementary School Students, Memory, Preschool Children, Responses, Visual Stimuli


According to Anderson and Well, Hale and Stevenson failed to observe a relatively large distraction effect for 5-year-olds because these children were performing at about chance level under distraction. However, the children's performance under distraction was significantly above chance since the expected chance score for a six-trail block was not 2.85, as Anderson and Well claim, but 2.50 (.50 correct per four-stimulus trial and .33 correct per six-stimulus trial, since no corrective feedback was given after the first response). However, this issue is important. If young children's performance is relatively low, there is less "room" for performance impairment than is true for older children. Examining distraction effects for groups given tasks of different levels of difficulty is one way of addressing the issue. If a floor effect is responsible for the lack of age difference in distraction effects, then as the task is changed from one of lesser to one of greater difficulty, the degree of performance impairment for young children should decrease in relation to that for older children. In a recent study, the difficulty of the criterion task was varied across groups of children at each of ages 5 and 8 years (Hale and Stevenson's attempt to vary task difficulty "within" subjects inexplicably failed to produce the desired differences in performance level). The aim of this study was to determine children's ability to memorize visual material in the presence of extraneous sights and sounds. Eight-year olds performance can be just as susceptible to distraction as that of 5-year-olds. Developmental changes in distraction effects may be seen under other conditions, however. It seems reasonable to assume that the developmental trends seen are very dependent on the nature of the distractors and the way in which distraction effects are measured. The author's current research seeks to identify factors associated with the testing situation that are critical in determining whether or not children will show developmentally decreasing susceptibility to distraction. (SGK) (12pp.)

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