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Keywords:

  • attentional orienting;
  • deviance detection;
  • event-related potential (ERP);
  • mismatch negativity (MMN);
  • P3a

Abstract

In this human event-related brain potential (ERP) study, we have used one's personal – relative to another person's – ringtone presented in a two-deviant passive oddball paradigm to investigate the long-term memory effects of self-selected personal significance of a sound on the automatic deviance detection and involuntary attention system. Our findings extend the knowledge of long-term effects usually reported in group-approaches in the domains of speech, music and environmental sounds. In addition to the usual mismatch negativity (MMN) and P3a component elicited by deviants in contrast to standard stimuli, we observed a posterior ERP deflection directly following the MMN for the personally significant deviant only. This specific impact of personal significance started around 200 ms after sound onset and involved neural generators that were different from the mere physical deviance detection mechanism. Whereas the early part of the P3a component was unaffected by personal significance, the late P3a was enhanced for the ERPs to the personal significant deviant suggesting that this stimulus was more powerful in attracting attention involuntarily. Following the involuntary attention switch, the personally significant stimulus elicited a widely-distributed negative deflection, probably reflecting further analysis of the significant sound involving evaluation of relevance or reorienting to the primary task. Our data show, that the personal significance of mobile phone and text message technology, which have developed as a major medium of communication in our modern world, prompts the formation of individual memory representations, which affect the processing of sounds that are not in the focus of attention.