Attentional Bias in Patients with Decompensated Tinnitus: Prima Facie Evidence from Event-Related Potentials

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Tinnitus refers to the auditory perception of sound in the absence of external sound or electric stimuli. The influence of tinnitus on cognitive processing is at the cutting edge of ongoing tinnitus research. In this study, we adopted an objective indicator of attentional processing, i.e. the mismatch negativity (MMN), to assess the attentional bias in patients with decompensated tinnitus. Three kinds of pure tones, D1 (8,000 Hz), S (8,500 Hz) and D2 (9,000 Hz), were used to induce event-related potentials (ERPs) in the normal ear. Employing the oddball paradigm, the task was divided into two blocks in which D1 and D2 were set as deviation stimuli, respectively. Only D2 induced a significant MMN in the tinnitus group, while neither D1 nor D2 was able to induce MMN in the control group. In addition, the ERPs in the left hemisphere, which were recorded within the time window of 90-150 ms (ERP90-150 ms), were significantly higher than those in the right hemisphere in the tinnitus group, while no significant difference was observed in the control group. Lastly, the amplitude of ERP90-150 ms in the tinnitus group was significantly higher than that in the control group. These findings suggest that patients with decompensated tinnitus showed automatic processing of acoustic stimuli, thereby indicating that these patients allocated more cognitive resources to acoustic stimulus processing. We suggest that the difficulty in disengaging or facilitated attention of patients might underlie this phenomenon. The limitations of the current study are discussed.

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