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Psychophysiology. 1991 Jul;28(4):410-24.

The relationship between skin conductance orienting and the allocation of processing resources.

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Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles 90089-1061.


Information processing models of autonomic orienting suggest that the elicitation of an orienting response is associated with either the call for, or the actual allocation of, limited attentional processing resources. However, Dawson, Filion, and Schell (1989) reported a directional dissociation between elicitation of the skin conductance orienting response and resource allocation, as indexed by reaction time slowing on a secondary task. Although larger skin conductance responses were elicited by a task-relevant stimulus than by a task-irrelevant stimulus, reaction time showed the opposite pattern (i.e., greater slowing to secondary task probes presented shortly following the onset of the task-irrelevant stimulus). In the present report, we describe three experiments which examine the generality of this dissociation effect and test specific hypotheses regarding its nature. Results of the first two experiments revealed that the dissociation effect is observed reliably when the task-relevant and task-irrelevant stimuli consist of left ear and right ear tones or high and low pitched binaural tones, across a range of secondary task probe presentation times. However, the third experiment demonstrated that when task-relevant and task-irrelevant stimuli are presented to different sensory modalities (auditory and visual), orienting and resource allocation are both greater during the task-relevant than the task-irrelevant stimuli, thus eliminating the dissociation effect. These results support the hypothesis that the dissociation effect is due to a switch of attention initiated because of the physical similarity of the task-relevant and task-irrelevant stimuli, and suggest that there is a fundamentally positive relationship between skin conductance orienting and resource allocation under selective attention conditions.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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