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Keywords:

  • attention;
  • auditory cortex;
  • EEG;
  • human;
  • MEG

Abstract

Event-related brain potentials (ERPs) and magnetic fields (ERFs) were used to compare brain activity associated with selective attention to sound location or pitch in humans. Sixteen healthy adults participated in the ERP experiment, and 11 adults in the ERF experiment. In different conditions, the participants focused their attention on a designated sound location or pitch, or pictures presented on a screen, in order to detect target sounds or pictures among the attended stimuli. In the Attend Location condition, the location of sounds varied randomly (left or right), while their pitch (high or low) was kept constant. In the Attend Pitch condition, sounds of varying pitch (high or low) were presented at a constant location (left or right). Consistent with previous ERP results, selective attention to either sound feature produced a negative difference (Nd) between ERPs to attended and unattended sounds. In addition, ERPs showed a more posterior scalp distribution for the location-related Nd than for the pitch-related Nd, suggesting partially different generators for these Nds. The ERF source analyses found no source distribution differences between the pitch-related Ndm (the magnetic counterpart of the Nd) and location-related Ndm in the superior temporal cortex (STC), where the main sources of the Ndm effects are thought to be located. Thus, the ERP scalp distribution differences between the location-related and pitch-related Nd effects may have been caused by activity of areas outside the STC, perhaps in the inferior parietal regions.