Auditory selective attention in middle-aged and elderly subjects: an event-related brain potential study

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125 Scopus citations


Reaction times (RTs) and event-related brain potentials (ERPs) were recorded in middle-aged (MA) and elderly (ELD) subjects performing an auditory selective attention task. Subjets attended to tone bursts of a specified pitch and ear of delivery and responded to occasional longer duration target tones (75 vs. 25 msec). Infrequent novel stimuli (computer synthesized sounds and digitized environmental noises) were also included in the stimulus sequence. No significant age-related differences were found in the speed or accuracy of target detection. However, in both groups, RTs were delayed (by more than 300 msec) to targets that followed novel sounds. The prolongation was greater following novel sounds in the attended ear, particularly in the ELD group. The effects of selective attention on ERPs to standard tones were isolated as negative difference waves (Nds) by subtracting ERPs to non-attended stimuli from ERPs to the same signals when attended. Nds had similar amplitudes, latencies of onset (60 msec), and distributions in ELD and MA groups. In both groups, Nd waves were more prominent following right ear stimulation, reflecting possible hemispheric asymmetries of generators in posterior temporal regions. The mismatch negativity (MMN) was isolated by subtracting ERPs to standard tones from ERPs to deviant stimuli. MMN amplitudes were reduced in the ELD group. There was also a significant change in MMN distribution with age: the MMN was larger over the right hemisphere for MA subjects but larger over the left for ELD subjects. Elderly subjects showed a trend toward smaller P3 amplitudes and delayed P3 latencies, but group differences did not reach statistical significance. ERPs to novel sounds were characterized by centrally distributed N2 and P3a components. Although the novel P3a was enhanced with attention, no novel Nd waves could be isolated. This suggests that novel sounds fell outside the focus of attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)456-468
Number of pages13
JournalElectroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology/ Evoked Potentials
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1992


  • Aging
  • Attention
  • Auditory
  • Cortex
  • Event-related potentials
  • Frequency
  • Hemispheric specialization
  • Orienting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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