Effects of crossmodal divided attention on late ERP components. I. Simple and choice reaction tasks

Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1991 Jun;78(6):438-46. doi: 10.1016/0013-4694(91)90061-8.


We studied several effects of dividing attention between visual and acoustic inputs on different processing stages. Simple and choice responses were required to single letter stimuli. RTs and P300 latencies were delayed for divided attention (variable stimulus modality) as compared to focused attention (constant stimulus modality). In all but one condition, RT and P300 delays were similar. The exception was choice tasks to auditory stimuli, in which the RT delay was far larger than the P300 delay. Since the amplitude of the late ERP was larger in choice tasks than in simple tasks, the differences between the ERPs of choice and simple tasks were computed. They revealed that an additional late positive wave ("P-CR") occurred in all choice ERPs. In the divided attention condition the auditory (but not the visual) P-CR showed a longer delay compared to focused attention. We interpret the P-CR to be time-related to the response selection process. Our results suggest that the division of attention causes a slight impairment of stimulus evaluation (shown in P300 latency) and, after auditory stimuli only, a strong impairment of response selection (shown in P-CR latency). We therefore conclude that the observed RT effects are due to a bias of processing resources towards the visual modality, which mainly affects response selection. The results are in accordance with the theory of visual dominance.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*