Tigger warning: This is a thick, technical read, but the conclusions of the study have potentially important implications for pronunciation teaching, especially attempts to enhance uptake of new and corrected sounds or patterns that rely on effective integration of sounds, images, movement and vocal resonance.
In essence, what the research examined was, as the title suggests, how distractions in the visual field affected subjects attention and ability to learn and recall audio-visual stimuli (images on a computer screen accompanied by sounds). What was striking (again as evident in the title) was that no matter how complex the task of associating the targeted sound with the visual image or object in focus, with even the slightest distraction created on the screen, e.g., a object briefly appearing in a corner, the subject's ability to integrate and recall the complex target later . . .was compromised.
The implications for pronunciation teaching? Not surprisingly, attention is critical in integrating sensory information. We know that, of course. What is more interesting is the idea that any visual distraction whatsoever that occurs when sound, movement and visual imagery (such as the orthography or phonetic representation of a word or phrase) are being "integrated" may seriously undermine the process. In other words, visual attention and eye tracking during the process may have dramatic impact. That is a "variable" that can, in principle, be managed in the classroom, although most do not consider visual distraction to be potentially that disruptive of pronunciation instruction. But it certainly can be.
We discovered early on that in haptic pronunciation work, where not only sound, visual imagery, movement and vocal resonance are involved--but touch as well, visual distraction can seriously derail the process. This research suggests, for example, that the same effect during general pronunciation work as well, especially oral work, may be a significant impediment in some contexts.
The sterile, featureless language laboratory booth of old may have had more going for it than we thought! In early haptic work we experimented with controlling eye tracking. Perhaps it is time we revisited that idea. It certainly deserves our undivided attention.
Original research article: Front. Integr. Neurosci., 20 January 2017 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2017.00001