Stimulus novelty, task relevance and the visual evoked potential in man

Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1975 Aug;39(2):131-43. doi: 10.1016/0013-4694(75)90003-6.


Visual evoked potentials (VEPs) were recorded from normal adult subjects performing in a visual discrimination task. Subjects counted the number of presentations of the numeral 4 which was interposed rarely and randomly within a sequence of tachistoscopically flashed background stimuli (numeral 2s). Intrusive, task-irrelevant (not counted) stimuli were also interspersed rarely and randomly in the sequence of 2s; these stimuli were of two types: simples, which were easily recognizable (e.g., geometric figures), and novels, which were completely unrecognizable (i.e., complex, colorful patterns). It was found that the simples and the counted 4s evoked posteriorly distributed P3 waves (latency 380-430 msec) while the irrelevant novels evoked large, frontally distributed P3 waves (latency 360-380 msec). These large, frontal P3 waves to novels were also found to be preceded by large N2 waves (latency 278 msec). These findings indicate that "the P3" wave is not a unitary phenomenon but should be considered in terms of a family of waves, differing in their brain generators and in their psychological correlates. These late positive components are discussed in terms of task-relevance, recognition and Pavlov's "what is it" response.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attention
  • Discrimination, Psychological
  • Electrodes
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Electrooculography
  • Evoked Potentials*
  • Humans
  • Physical Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Vision, Ocular*