Preattentive representation of feature conjunctions for concurrent spatially distributed auditory objects.Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2005 Sep; 25(1):169-79.BR
The role of attention in conjoining features of an object has been a topic of much debate. Studies using the mismatch negativity (MMN), an index of detecting acoustic deviance, suggested that the conjunctions of auditory features are preattentively represented in the brain. These studies, however, used sequentially presented sounds and thus are not directly comparable with visual studies of feature integration. Therefore, the current study presented an array of spatially distributed sounds to determine whether the auditory features of concurrent sounds are correctly conjoined without focal attention directed to the sounds. Two types of sounds differing from each other in timbre and pitch were repeatedly presented together while subjects were engaged in a visual n-back working-memory task and ignored the sounds. Occasional reversals of the frequent pitch-timbre combinations elicited MMNs of a very similar amplitude and latency irrespective of the task load. This result suggested preattentive integration of auditory features. However, performance in a subsequent target-search task with the same stimuli indicated the occurrence of illusory conjunctions. The discrepancy between the results obtained with and without focal attention suggests that illusory conjunctions may occur during voluntary access to the preattentively encoded object representations.