Social Offloading: Just Working Together is Enough to Remove Semantic Interference

AbstractCognitive interference is a classic cognitive phenomenon: processing one stimulus while ignoring another is more challenging when the two are related. Recently, and surprisingly, it has been shown that an individual’s cognitive interference can be removed by the people around them. In the picture-word interference paradigm, participants respond to a target picture and ignore distractor words. If the words are semantically related to the target, interference slows responses. We found that this cognitive interference was removed, or socially offloaded, when participants believed that they were working together with another person. In contrast to previous studies we found it did not matter if the other person worked on the distractor words or on task irrelevant, coloured squares. Furthermore, the time course of this effect suggests that the social offloading of semantic interference is underpinned by late inhibitory mechanisms rather than early distractor filtering.

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