Developmental trends in distractibility: Is absolute or proportional decrement the appropriate measure of interference?

Arnold D. Well, Elizabeth Pugzles Lorch, Daniel R. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


Since baseline performance varies with age, diminished interference effects found with increasing age do not provide evidence for a developmental trend in distractibility unless their relationship to baseline performance is known. In the present study, baseline difficulty was varied in two speeded classification experiments to investigate whether interference effects due to irrelevant information could best be characterized by absolute or proportional decrement models. In Experiment 1, first graders, third graders, and adults sorted cards on the basis of square size, both in the presence and absence of extraneous stimulus information. In Experiment 2, first graders and adults sorted cards on the basis of the density of a regular array of dots and two kinds of irrelevant information were used. Robust interference effects were found which declined with age. Manipulating discriminability of the relevant stimulus dimension resulted in large changes in sorting time, but interference effects did not vary with baseline difficulty. These results were interpreted as strongly supporting both an absolute decrement model and a developmental trend in distractibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-124
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1980

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported here was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant 29827 to the first author and by a grant from the W. T. Grant Foundation. The third author is supported by a Research Scientist Development Award from NIMH. Our appreciation is extended to the children, teachers, and principal of the Sacred Heart School, the Notre Dame Immaculate Conception School, and the Cold Springs School, who enabled this research to be carried out. We also thank Rosemarie Miskiewicz, Jean Sanders, and Diane Field for their most able assistance, and Nancy Myers and Charles Clifton for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of this paper. Reprint requests should be sent to Arnold D. Well, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass. 01003. 109

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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