The effect of visuospatial attentional load on the processing of irrelevant acoustic distractors

Neuroimage. 2006 Nov 1;33(2):715-24. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.07.015. Epub 2006 Sep 7.


This work investigated the role of cognitive control functions in selective attention when task-relevant and -irrelevant stimuli come from different sensory modalities. We parametrically manipulated the load of an attentive tracking task and investigated its effect on irrelevant acoustic change-related processing. While subjects were performing the visual attentive tracking task, event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded for frequent standard tones and rare deviant tones presented as auditory distractors. The deviant tones elicited two change-related ERP components: the mismatch negativity (MMN) and the P3a. The amplitude of the MMN, which indexes the early detection of irregular changes, increased with increasing attentional load, whereas the subsequent P3a component, which indicates the involuntary orienting of attention to deviants, was significant only in the lowest load condition. These findings suggest that active exclusion of the early detection process of irrelevant acoustic changes depends on available resources of cognitive control, whereas the late involuntary orienting of attention to deviants can be passively suppressed by high demand on central attentional resources. The present study thus reveals opposing visual attentional load effects at different temporal and functional stages in the rejection of deviant auditory distractors and provides a new perspective on the resolution of the long-standing early versus late attention selection debate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time
  • Reference Values
  • Signal Detection, Psychological
  • Space Perception*
  • Visual Perception