The recovery functions of auditory event-related potentials during split-second discriminations

David L Woods, Eric Courchesne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


We examined the recovery cycles of auditory event-related potentials (ERPs) in a high-speed auditory discrimination task and in passive conditions. Each trial contained 3 tones cued by a warning flash. In passive conditions, auditory ERPs consisted mainly of N1 (108 msec) and P2 (213 msec) components superimposed on a small CNV. The N1 and P2 were comparable in amplitude and both had prolonged refractory periods. In discriminative reaction time (DRT) conditions the same tones cued or inhibited press responses and elicited additional endogenous components (principally the Nd and P3). ERPs in DRT conditions were superimposed upon a prominent CNV that began after the warning cue and lasted throughout the signal delivery period. The N1 was larger in active than passive conditions and showed less marked refractory effects, while the P2 was smaller and showed more marked refractoriness. Differences between active and passive conditions could be explained by the presence of an endogenous negative potential (the Nd) with a short refractory period that was superimposed upon the N1 and P2. The P3 was recorded only in active conditions. At short ISIs (0.5 sec), P3 amplitudes were reduced and P3 latencies lengthened in parallel with prolongations in reaction time due to so-called psychological refractory period (PRP) effects. Both P3 recovery and the PRP reflected central mechanisms since they were observed at short ISIs when stimuli cueing different responses succeeded one another. N1 and P3 amplitudes diminished over the course of the experiment in both active and passive conditions. The decrease (amounting to about 30% of initial amplitudes) did not appear due to reductions in vigilance, since it was not accompanied by changes in reaction time or response accuracy, or by changes in other endogenous components (CNV or Nd). Short-term N1 habituation was unaffected by long-term amplitude reductions suggesting that independent mechanisms were responsible for the two phenomena.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)304-315
Number of pages12
JournalElectroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology/ Evoked Potentials
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1986


  • auditory discrimination task
  • event-related potentials (ERPs)
  • habituation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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