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Keywords:

  • ERP;
  • P300;
  • Heart rate;
  • Orienting;
  • Attention

Whether late positive components of event-related potentials (ERPs) parallel changes in heart rate (HR) indicative of attention/orienting to rare stimuli has been debated. In the present study, a three-stimulus design was used, with rare target, rare nontarget, and frequent standard stimuli delivered under identical conditions except that instructions to subjects described the targets to which subjects should respond but did not describe the nontargets. In Experiment 1, stimuli varied among modalities; in Experiment 2, auditory stimuli were employed. Both ERPs and HR were consistent with automatic processing preceding two stages of controlled processing. Rare stimuli evoked larger parietal P300 and initial HR deceleration than standards. Presumably because of load-reducing effects of long interstimulus intervals, targets and nontargets were not distinguished before a late slow wave and a late phase of HR acceleration. Neither rare stimulus elicited a recognizable frontal P3a.