Distraction paper pulled for clerical error

The authors of a 2018 paper on how noisy distractions disrupt memory are retracting the article after finding a flaw in their study.

The paper, “Unexpected events disrupt visuomotor working memory and increase guessing,” appeared in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, a publication of the Psychonomic Society. (For those keeping score at home, psychonomics is the study of the laws of the mind.)

The article purported to show that an unexpected “auditory event,” like the sudden blare of a car horn, reduced the ability of people to remember visuomotor cues. Per the abstract:

These results showed an impact of unexpected events on visuomotor WM [working memory] that was statistically robust and endured across time. They also showed that the effect was based on an increase in guessing, consistent with a neuroscience-inspired theory that unexpected events “wipe out” WM by stopping the ongoing maintenance of the trace. This new task paradigm is an excellent vehicle for further explorations of distractibility.

But perhaps not. According to the retraction notice:

The authors are retracting this article (Finzi et al., 2018) because after publication they discovered a mistake in the behavioral analysis.

Greg Hickock, editor of the journal, said

The authors approached me after they noticed a problem with their analysis.  It was the equivalent of a clerical error.

Adam Aron, the senior author of the paper and a professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego, who studies executive function, told us that the glitch was

a coding error to do with the way outliers were removed. When we ourselves discovered the error we initiated the retraction. No other published studies are affected.

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