The Temporal Cascade of Neural Processes Underlying Target Detection and Attentional Processing During Auditory Search.
The posterior visual event-related potential (ERP) component, the N2pc, has been widely used to study lateralized shifts of attention within visual arrays. Recently, Gamble and Luck (2011) reported an auditory analog of this activity (the fronto-central "N2ac"), reflecting the lateralized focusing of attention toward a Target sound among 2 simultaneous auditory stimuli. Here, we directed an electrophysiological approach toward understanding auditory Target search within a more complex auditory environment in which rapidly occurring sounds were distributed across both time and space. Trials consisted of ten 40-ms monaural sounds rapidly presented to the 2 ears: 8 medium-pitch tones and 2 deviant sounds (one high and one low). For each block, one deviant type was designated as the Target, which participants needed to identify within each trial to discriminate its tonal quality. The extracted electrophysiological results included a very early enhancement, starting at approximately 50 ms, of a bilateral negative-polarity auditory brain response to the designated Target Deviant (compared with the Nontarget Deviant), followed at approximately 130 ms by the N2ac activity reflecting the lateralized focusing of attention toward that Target. The results delineate the tightly orchestrated sequence of neural processes underlying the detection of, and focusing of attention toward, Target sounds in complex auditory scenes.
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