Ruhnau, P., Herrmann, B., Maess, B., Brauer, J., Friederici, A. D., & Schröger, E. (2013). Processing of complex distracting sounds in school-aged children and adults: evidence from EEG and MEG data. Front Psychol, 4, 717.

Processing of complex distracting sounds in school-aged children and adults: evidence from EEG and MEG data

When a perceiver performs a task, rarely occurring sounds often have a distracting effect on task performance. The neural mismatch responses in event-related potentials to such distracting stimuli depend on age. Adults commonly show a negative response, whereas in children a positive as well as a negative mismatch response has been reported. Using electro- and magnetoencephalography (EEG/MEG), here we investigated the developmental changes of distraction processing in school-aged children (9-10 years) and adults. Participants took part in an auditory-visual distraction paradigm comprising a visuo-spatial primary task and task-irrelevant environmental sounds distracting from this task. Behaviorally, distractors delayed reaction times (RTs) in the primary task in both age groups, and this delay was of similar magnitude in both groups. The neurophysiological data revealed an early as well as a late mismatch response elicited by distracting stimuli in both age groups. Together with previous research, this indicates that deviance detection is accomplished in a hierarchical manner in the auditory system. Both mismatch responses were localized to auditory cortex areas. All mismatch responses were generally delayed in children, suggesting that not all neurophysiological aspects of deviance processing are mature in school-aged children. Furthermore, the P3a, reflecting involuntary attention capture, was present in both age groups in the EEG with comparable amplitudes and at similar latencies, but with a different topographical distribution. This suggests that involuntary attention shifts toward complex distractors operate comparably in school-aged children and adults, yet undergoing generator maturation.


Cognitive and Biological Psychology

University of Leipzig
Faculty of Life Sciences
Institute of Psychology
Neumarkt 9-19
D-04109 Leipzig


Dagmar Schrödl
Phone: +49 341 97-39570
Email: dagmar dot schroedl at uni-leipzig dot de

Dorit Thieme
Phone: +49 341 97-39540
Email: d dot thieme at uni-leipzig dot de

Fax: +49 341 97-39271