Informational masking and auditory attention

Marjorie R. Leek, Mary E. Brown, Michael F. Dorman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Informational masking is broadly defined as a degradation of auditory detection or discrimination of a signal embedded ina context of other similar sounds; it is not related to energetic masking caused by physical interactions between signal and masker. In this paper, we report a systematic release from informational masking of a target tone in anine-tone rapid auditory sequence as the target is increasingly isolated in frequency or intensity from the remaieining sequence components. Improved target-tone frequency difference limens as isolation increases are interpreted as a reflection of increasingly focused auditory attention. The change from diffuse to highly focused attention is gradual over the frequency and intensity ranges examined, with each 1-dB increment in target intensity relative to the remaining components producing performance improvements equivalent to those produced by a 2% increase in frequency isolation. The results are modeled as bands of attention in the frequency and intensity domains. For attention directed by frequency isolation, there is a strong correspondence with auditory filters predicted by the power spectrum model of masking. These data also support the existence of an attention band of intensity, with a bandwidth of about 5-7 dB at the moderate levels used in this experiment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)205-214
Number of pages10
JournalPerception & Psychophysics
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1991
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Psychology(all)
  • Sensory Systems


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