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Surprise? Early visual novelty processing is not modulated by attention

Authors

  • Elise C. Tarbi,

    1. Brigham Behavioral Neurology Group, Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Masachusetts, USA
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  • Xue Sun,

    1. Brigham Behavioral Neurology Group, Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Masachusetts, USA
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  • Phillip J. Holcomb,

    1. Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts, USA
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  • Kirk R. Daffner

    1. Brigham Behavioral Neurology Group, Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Masachusetts, USA
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  • This research was funded in part by NIA grant 1R01 AGO17935 and by generous support from D. Wimberly and S. Muss. The authors thank Katie Gartner for her excellent administrative assistance.

Address correspondence to: Kirk R. Daffner, M.D., Division of Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Department of Neurology, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, 221 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA. E-mail: kdaffner@partners.org

Abstract

This study investigated the influence of direction of attention on the early detection of visual novelty, as indexed by the anterior N2. The anterior N2 was measured in young subjects (n=32) under an attend and an ignore condition. Subjects were presented standard, target/rare, and perceptually novel visual stimuli under both conditions, but under the ignore condition, attention was directed toward an auditory n-back task. The size of the anterior N2 to novel stimuli did not differ between conditions and was significantly larger than the anterior N2 to all other stimulus types. Furthermore, under the ignore condition, the anterior N2 to visual novel stimuli was not affected by the level of difficulty of the auditory n-back task (3-back vs. 2-back). Our findings suggest that the early processing of visual novelty, as measured by the size of the anterior N2, is not strongly modulated by direction of attention.

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