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Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2002 Nov;14(3):325-32.

An electrophysiological and behavioral investigation of involuntary attention towards auditory frequency, duration and intensity changes.

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Department of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychobiology, University of Barcelona, P Vall d'Hebron 171, 08035, Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain.


We measured behavior and event-related brain potentials (ERPs) in 12 subjects performing on an audio-visual distraction paradigm to investigate the cerebral mechanisms of involuntary attention towards stimulus changes in the acoustic environment. Subjects classified odd/even numbers presented on a computer screen 300 ms after the occurrence of a task-irrelevant auditory stimulus, by pressing the corresponding response button. Auditory stimuli were standard tones (600 Hz, 200 ms, 85 dB; P=0.8) or deviant tones (P=0.2), these differing from the standard either in frequency (700 Hz), duration (50 ms) or intensity (79 dB), in separate blocks. In comparison to performance to visual stimuli following the standard tones, reaction time increased by 24 ms (F(1,11)=10.91, P<0.01) and hit rate decreased by 4.6% (F(1,11)=35.47, P<0.001) to visual stimuli following the deviant tones, indicating behavioral distraction. ERPs revealed the mismatch negativity (MMN) elicited to deviant tones, which was larger for the duration deviant than for the frequency and intensity deviants (F(2,22)=19.43, P<0.001, epsilon =0.83), and which had different scalp distribution for all three deviant conditions (F(16,176)=2.40, P<0.05, epsilon =0.12). As the shorter duration and softer intensity deviant tones were unlikely to engage fresh neurons responding to their specific physical features, the present results indicate that a genuine change detection mechanism is involved in triggering attention switching towards sound changes, and suggest a largely distributed neural network of the auditory cortex underlying such involuntary attention switching.

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