Auditory distraction during reading: A Bayesian meta-analysis of a continuing controversy
Journal: Perspectives on Psychological Science
Publisher: Blackwell Publishing Inc.
Everyday reading occurs in different settings, such as on the train to work, in a busy cafeteria, or at home, while listening to music. In these situations, readers are exposed to external auditory stimulation from nearby noise, speech, or music that may distract them from their task and reduce their comprehension. Although many studies have investigated auditory distraction effects during reading, the results have proved to be inconsistent and sometimes even contradictory. Additionally, the broader theoretical implications of the findings have not always been explicitly considered. In the present study, we report a Bayesian meta-analysis of 65 studies on auditory distraction effects during reading and use meta-regression models to test predictions derived from existing theories. The results showed that background noise, speech, and music all have a small, but reliably detrimental effect on reading performance. The degree of disruption in reading comprehension did not generally differ between adults and children. Intelligible speech and lyrical music resulted in the biggest distraction. While this last result is consistent with theories of semantic distraction, there was also reliable distraction by noise. It is argued that new theoretical models are needed that can account for distraction by both background speech and noise.