Peter C. Gordon
Dept. of Psychol., Harvard Univ., 33 Kirkland St., Cambridge, MA 02138
Elizabeth J. Pyatt
Harvard Univ., Cambridge, MA 02138
The role of attention in the phonetic encoding of acoustic cues was studied by examining the effect of a nonspeech distractor task on listeners' classification of the speech sounds /ra/ and /la/. Consistent with previous results [Gordon et al., Cog. Psychol. 25 (1993)] it was found that the impact of a relatively strong cue (F3 transition) on phonetic classification was reduced when listeners could not devote full attention to the speech sound. In contrast with previous results, the impact of a relatively weak cue (an aperiodic burst during the formant transition) was also reduced when full attention was not possible. This result conflicts with models in which the importance of attention in phonetic encoding is greater for acoustic cues whose phonetic importance is very great. It suggests that the role of attention in phonetic encoding depends on specific characteristics of acoustic cues.