Temporal attention is involved in the enhancement of attentional capture with task difficulty: an event-related brain potential study

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Abstract

In a three-stimulus oddball task, the amplitude of P3a elicited by deviant stimuli increases with an increase in the difficulty of discriminating between standard and target stimuli (i.e. task-difficulty effect on P3a), indicating that attentional capture by deviant stimuli is enhanced with an increase in task difficulty. This enhancement of attentional capture may be explained in terms of the modulation of modality-nonspecific temporal attention; that is, the participant’s attention directed to the predicted timing of stimulus presentation is stronger when the task difficulty increases, which results in enhanced attentional capture. The present study examined this possibility with a modified three-stimulus oddball task consisting of a visual standard, a visual target, and four types of deviant stimuli defined by a combination of two modalities (visual and auditory) and two presentation timings (predicted and unpredicted). We expected that if the modulation of temporal attention is involved in enhanced attentional capture, then the task-difficulty effect on P3a should be reduced for unpredicted compared with predicted deviant stimuli irrespective of their modality; this is because the influence of temporal attention should be markedly weaker for unpredicted compared with predicted deviant stimuli. The results showed that the task-difficulty effect on P3a was significantly reduced for unpredicted compared with predicted deviant stimuli in both the visual and the auditory modalities. This result suggests that the modulation of modality-nonspecific temporal attention induced by the increase in task difficulty is at least partly involved in the enhancement of attentional capture by deviant stimuli.

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