Effects of Irrelevant Sounds on Phonological Coding in Reading Comprehension and Short-term Memory

Robyn Boyle, Veronika Coltheart*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    61 Citations (Scopus)


    The effects of irrelevant sounds on reading comprehension and short-term memory were studied in two experiments. In Experiment 1, adults judged the acceptability of written sentences during irrelevent speech, accompanied and unaccompanied singing, instrumental music, and in silence. Sentences varied in syntactic complexity: Simple sentences contained a right-branching relative clause (The applause pleased the woman that gave the speech) and syntactically complex sentences included a centre-embedded relative clause (The hay that the farmer stored fed the hungry animals). Unacceptable sentences either sounded acceptable (The dog chased the cat that eight up all his food) or did not (The man praised the child that sight up his spinach). Decision accuracy was impaired by syntactic complexity but not by irrelevant sounds. Phonological coding was indicated by increased errors on unacceptable sentences that sounded correct. These error rates were unaffected by irrelevant sounds. Experiment 2 examined effects of irrelevant sounds on ordered recall of phonologically similar and dissimilar word lists. Phonological similarity impaired recall. Irrelevant speech reduced recall but did not interact with phonological similarity. The results of these experiments question assumptions about the relationship between speech input and phonological coding in reading and the short-term store.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)398-416
    Number of pages19
    JournalQuarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A: Human Experimental Psychology
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - May 1996


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