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Exp Psychol. 2004;51(4):249-57.

Bottom-up influences on working memory: behavioral and electrophysiological distraction varies with distractor strength.

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Psychological Institute, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany.


The present study investigates bottom-up effects serving the optimal balance between focusing attention on relevant information and distractibility by potentially significant events outside the focus of attention. We tested whether distraction, indicated by behavioral and event-related brain potential (ERP) measures, varies with the strength of task-irrelevant deviances. Twenty subjects performed a tone-duration discrimination task (200 or 400 ms sinusoidal tones presented equiprobably). The stimuli were presented with frequent standard (p = 0.84; 1000 Hz) or infrequent deviant (p = 0.16) pitch. These task-irrelevant pitch changes consisted in a frequency increase/decrease of 1%, 3%, 5%, or 10%. Each of them resulted in prolonged reaction times (RT) in the duration discrimination task and elicited the MMN, P3a, and RON components of the ERP. Importantly, these measures did increase as a function of pitch deviance. Separating the individual trials on the 1% deviation level into trials with and without RT prolongation, i.e., behavioral distraction effect, revealed that both subgroups had similar MMN, but P3a and RON were confined to the trials with RT prolongation. Results are interpreted within a model relating preattentive deviance detection, distraction, and working memory.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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