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Keywords:

  • magnetoencephalography;
  • frequency discrimination;
  • N100m;
  • auditory;
  • processing field;
  • task difficulty

Abstract

We investigated the effect of task difficulty on the dynamics of auditory cortical responses. Whole-scalp magnetoencephalographic (MEG) signals were recorded while subjects performed a same/different frequency discrimination task on equiprobable tone pairs applied in blocks of five, which were separated by a 10 s intertrial interval. Task difficulty was manipulated by the interpair frequency difference. The manipulation of task difficulty affected the amplitude of the N100m response to the first tone and the latency of the N100m response to the second tone in each pair. The N100m responses were smaller and peaked significantly later in the difficult than in the easy condition. The later processing field (PF) responses were longer in duration in the difficult condition. In both conditions, the duration of the PF response was negatively correlated with the subject's performance in the task, and was longer in the less successful subjects. The PF response may thus reflect the subjects' effort to resolve the task. The N100m and the PF responses did not differ between the tone pairs along the five-pair trial as a function of task difficulty, suggesting that changes in response along the five-pair trial are not easily affected by high-level manipulations. Hum Brain Mapp 2009. © 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.