Get access

ERP correlates of involuntary attention capture by prosodic salience in speech


  • The research reported in this article was supported by Grant AG09988 and by the New York State Department of Mental Hygiene. We are grateful to Drs. Risto Näätänen and Mara Morr for their suggestions at the early stages of this study, Charles L. Brown, III for computer programming and technical assistance, Letecia Latif for her assistance in the recruiting and screening of participants, Bridget Pierpont for sound recording, and Jason Frangos for his assistance in collecting data. We gratefully acknowledge the very helpful remarks of Dr. Leun Otten and three anonymous reviewers. We are also deeply indebted to all participants' contributions to this experiment.

Address reprint requests to: David Friedman, Ph.D. Cognitive Electrophysiology Laboratory, New York State Psychiatric Institute, Unit 6, 1051 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10032, USA. E-mail:


This study addressed whether temporally salient (e.g., word onset) or prosodically salient (e.g., stressed syllables) information serves as a cue to capture attention in speech sound analysis. In an auditory oddball paradigm, 16 native English speakers were asked to ignore binaurally presented disyllabic speech sounds and watch a silent movie while ERPs were recorded. Four types of phonetic deviants were employed: a deviant syllable that was either stressed or unstressed and that occurred in either the first or second temporal position. The nature of the phonetic change (a change from a voiced consonant to its corresponding unvoiced consonant) was kept constant. MMNs were observed for all deviants. In contrast, the P3a was only seen when the deviance occurred on stressed syllables. The sensitivity of the P3a to the stress manipulation suggests that prosodic rather than temporal salience captures attention in unattended speech sounds.