Examining task-dependencies of different attentional processes as reflected in the P3a and reorienting negativity components of the human event-related brain potential.Neurosci Lett. 2006 Apr 03; 396(3):177-81.NL
Unexpected changes in task-irrelevant auditory stimuli are capable to distract processing of task-relevant visual information. This effect is accompanied by the elicitation of event-related potential (ERP) components associated with attentional orientation, i.e. P3a and reorienting negativity (RON). In the present study we varied the demands of a visual task in order to test whether the RON component -- as an index of attentional reorientation after distraction -- is confined to a semantic task requiring working memory. In two ERP experiments we applied an auditory-visual distraction paradigm in which subjects were instructed to discriminate visual stimuli preceded by a task-irrelevant sound, this being either a standard tone (600 Hz, 88%) or a deviant tone (660 Hz, 12%). The visual stimuli were numbers which had to be judged on basis of a semantic (odd or even) or physical feature (either size or colour). As expected, deviance related ERP components namely the mismatch negativity (MMN), P3a, and RON were elicited. Importantly, the RON was affected by the variation of the task: within the semantic task an early RON and within the physical task a late RON was obtained. These results suggest that the RON component reflects two functionally distinct processes of attentional allocation after distraction: refocusing on task-relevant information on the working memory level, and general reorientation of attention, e.g. preparation for the upcoming task.