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Front Hum Neurosci. 2012 Jun 12;6:167. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00167. eCollection 2012.

The influence of executive capacity on selective attention and subsequent processing.

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Center for Brain/Mind Medicine, Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston MA, USA.


Recent investigations that suggest selective attention (SA) is dependent on top-down control mechanisms lead to the expectation that individuals with high executive capacity (EC) would exhibit more robust neural indices of SA. This prediction was tested by using event-related potentials (ERPs) to examine differences in markers of information processing across 25 subjects divided into two groups based on high vs. average EC, as defined by neuropsychological test scores. Subjects performed an experimental task requiring SA to a specified color. In contrast to expectation, individuals with high and average EC did not differ in the size of ERP indices of SA: the anterior Selection Positivity (SP) and posterior Selection Negativity (SN). However, there were substantial differences between groups in markers of subsequent processing, including the anterior N2 (a measure of attentional control) and the P3a (an index of the orienting of attention). EC predicted speed of processing at both early and late attentional stages. Individuals with lower EC exhibited prolonged SN, P3a, and P3b latencies. However, the delays in carrying out SA operations did not account for subsequent delays in decision making, or explain excessive orienting and reduced attentional control mechanisms in response to stimuli that should have been ignored. SN latency, P3 latency, and the size of the anterior N2 made independent contributions to the variance of EC. In summary, our findings suggest that current views regarding the relationship between top-down control mechanisms and SA may need refinement.


event-related potentials; executive functions; selective attention; top-down control

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