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An auditory Eriksen-flanker task was used to study how conflicting information interferes with selective attention to task-relevant differences in pure-tone frequency. Across the observation intervals of the discrimination task, the relevant frequency differences between target tones were positive, but within an observation interval, they could appear to be small or negative relative to conflicting differences in flanker tones leading or trailing the target. Being correct required attending to the between-target and ignoring the target–flanker pitch relation (across and within observation-interval, respectively). The interference index was an elevation of conflict-laden frequency discrimination thresholds (FDTs), relative to no-conflict FDTs. When conflicting differences in frequency or level (but not in duration) trailed the relevant differences, interference (i.e., FDT elevation) was large and persistent, increased with the target–flanker time proximity, but decreased with extensive training. Interference occurs when the target–flanker pitch relation is more prominent than the one between targets, and the physical and/or perceptual effects of relevant and conflicting differences tend to cancel one another, as with the above conflicting differences. With untrained participants, the target–flanker pitch relation is most prominent in conditions fostering both the perceptual grouping of the target and flanker (e.g., close time proximity), and the recency and salience of the conflicting differences (e.g., trailing conflicting difference); conversely, by lessening such grouping and salience, prolonged training decreases or nullifies the interference. The interference observed herein does not arise because the relevant and the conflicting differences each prompt separate decisions or responses that are in mutual conflict; instead, it arises from the early-stage interaction between their perceptual effects.
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- Selective attention to pitch amid conflicting auditory information: context-coding and filtering strategies