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Cortical potentials in an auditory oddball task reflect individual differences in working memory capacity

Authors

  • Kate A. Yurgil,

    1. VA Center of Excellence for Stress and Mental Health, San Diego, California, USA
    2. VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, California, USA
    3. Department of Psychology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
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  • Edward J. Golob

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychology, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
    2. Program in Neuroscience, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
    • Address correspondence to: Edward J. Golob, PhD, 3067 Percival Stern Hall, Department of Psychology, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118. E-mail: egolob@tulane.edu

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  • The authors would like to thank Dr. Emily Elliott, Louisiana State University, for her expertise on working memory, and Debra Karhson, Laura Manning, Jeremy Nelson, and Carrie Pauker, Tulane University, for their assistance on this project. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, BCS-0844961.

Abstract

This study determined whether auditory cortical responses associated with mechanisms of attention vary with individual differences in working memory capacity (WMC) and perceptual load. The operation span test defined subjects with low versus high WMC, who then discriminated target/nontarget tones while EEG was recorded. Infrequent white noise distracters were presented at midline or ±90° locations, and perceptual load was manipulated by varying nontarget frequency. Amplitude of the N100 to distracters was negatively correlated with WMC. Relative to targets, only high WMC subjects showed attenuated N100 amplitudes to nontargets. In the higher WMC group, increased perceptual load was associated with decreased P3a amplitudes to distracters and longer-lasting negative slow wave to nontargets. Results show that auditory cortical processing is associated with multiple facets of attention related to WMC and possibly higher-level cognition.

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