P3 varies with stimulus categorization rather than probability

Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol. 1993 Jun;86(6):395-407. doi: 10.1016/0013-4694(93)90135-i.


We examined the relationship between P3 amplitude elicited by different auditory task stimuli and response-defined categorization requirements. Two experiments were conducted which examined the effects of the categorization of tone pitches (experiment 1) and spoken digits (experiment 2) on P3 amplitude. The categorization requirements were the same in both experiments. Two patterns of results were found in experiment 1: first, when subjects had to categorize an end term within the stimulus scale the largest P3 amplitudes were elicited by this stimulus. Secondly, when all tone pitches had to be categorized separately or when the categorization of the middle tone pitch was required, P3 amplitudes were smallest for the middle tone pitch and increased in amplitude at both ends of the stimulus scale. Different patterns of results were found in experiment 2. When subjects had to categorize 1 out of 5 spoken digits the largest P3 amplitudes were elicited by this digit no matter which position it had on the stimulus scale. In addition, only negligible P3s were found in the condition in which each of the digits had to be categorized separately. It is argued (i) that spoken words yield a higher degree of distinctiveness than tone pitches and (ii) that P3 amplitude is related to the probability of response-defined task categories only to the extent that stimuli can easily be assigned to categories.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology