Beneficial effects of noise on higher cognition have recently attracted attention. Hypothesizing an involvement of the mesolimbic dopamine system and its functional interactions with cortical areas, the current study aimed to demonstrate a facilitation of dopamine-dependent attentional and mnemonic functions by externally applying white noise in five behavioral experiments including a total sample of 167 healthy human subjects. During working memory, acoustic white noise impaired accuracy when presented during the maintenance period (Experiments 1-3). In a reward based long-term memory task, white noise accelerated perceptual judgments for scene images during encoding but left subsequent recognition memory unaffected (Experiment 4). In a modified Posner task (Experiment 5), the benefit due to white noise in attentional orienting correlated weakly with reward dependence, a personality trait that has been associated with the dopaminergic system. These results suggest that white noise has no general effect on cognitive functions. Instead, they indicate differential effects on perception and cognition depending on a variety of factors such as task demands and timing of white noise presentation.
Keywords: attention; dopamine; memory; stochastic facilitation; stochastic resonance.