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Neuropsychology. 2008 May;22(3):293-300. doi: 10.1037/0894-4105.22.3.293.

Children's event-related potentials of auditory selective attention vary with their socioeconomic status.

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  • 1Carleton University, Department of Psychology, Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Canada.


Past research suggests a link between socioeconomic status (SES) and brain processes in children, but direct evidence from neuroimaging is scarce. The authors investigated the relationships among SES, performance, and the neural correlates of auditory selective attention, by comparing event-related potentials (ERPs) in lower- and higher-SES preadolescent children during a task in which they attended to two types of pure tones but ignored two other types. Our hypothesis was that, at comparable performance levels, higher-SES children ignore distracters (the unattended, irrelevant tones) while lower-SES children attend equally to distracters and to targets (the attended, relevant tones). The authors found that ERP waveform differences between attended and unattended tones (Nd, difference negativity) were significant in the higher-SES but not in the lower-SES group. However, the groups did not differ in reaction times or accuracy. Electroencephalographic power analysis revealed a differential pattern of theta activity concomitant with irrelevant tones for the two groups, indicating that although they performed similarly the children from these groups recruited different neural processes. Lower-SES children, the authors suggest, deployed supplementary resources to also attend to irrelevant information.

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