Asymmetries in Distractibility: Left Distractors Improve Reaction Time Performance

Nicole A. Thomas, Michael E R Nicholls

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Research using the irrelevant-distractor paradigm shows perceptual load influences distractibility, such that distractors are more likely to be processed and decrease reaction times during low perceptual load. In contrast, under high load, attentional resources are limited, and the likelihood of distractibility is decreased. We manipulated distractor placement to determine whether location differentially influenced distractibility. During low load, reaction times were increased equally for all distractor locations. Under high load, left distractors speeded reaction times significantly more than right distractors. We suggest two potential explanations: (1) the central focus of attention was sufficiently large to encapsulate both the distractor and the visual array during low perceptual load, leading to increased distraction - during high load, attention was split across the two visual stimuli, allowing the distractors and array to be processed independently; (2) superior executive control for stimuli in the left visual field allowed participants to 'catch and release' left distractors more efficiently, ultimately decreasing distraction and providing a performance benefit. Our findings represent an intriguing development in relation to visual asymmetries in distractibility.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5157
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 26 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • human behaviour
  • visual system

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