The visual N1 component as an index of a discrimination process

Psychophysiology. 2000 Mar;37(2):190-203.


Many previous studies have demonstrated that the visual N1 component is larger for attended-location stimuli than for unattended-location stimuli. This difference is observed typically only for tasks involving a discrimination of the attended-location stimuli, suggesting that the N1 wave reflects a discrimination process that is applied to the attended location. The present study tested this hypothesis by examining the N1 component elicited by attended stimuli under conditions that either required or did not require the subject to perform a discrimination. Specifically, the N1 elicited by foveal stimuli during choice-reaction time (RT) tasks was compared with the N1 elicited by identical stimuli during simple-RT tasks. In three experiments, a larger posterior N1 was observed in choice-RT tasks than in simple-RT tasks, even when several potential confounds were eliminated (e.g., arousal and motor preparation). This N1 discrimination effect was observed even when no motor response was required and was present for both color- and form-based discriminations. Moreover, this discrimination effect was equally large for easy and difficult discriminations, arguing against a simple resource-based explanation of the present results. Instead, the results of this study are consistent with the hypothesis that the visual N1 component reflects the operation of a discrimination process within the focus of attention.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology*