Attentional orienting and reorientation in young children

Wetzel, N., Berti, S., Widmann, A., and Schröger, E.
Institut für Allgemeine Psychologie, University of Leipzig, Germany

The aim of this study was to investigate attentional processes in young children on electrophysiological and behavioral levels. More specifically, we were interested in processes involved in the involuntary orientation to task-irrelevant distracting sound features and the voluntary reorientation to task-relevant aspects of stimulation. We developed a new distraction paradigm suited for children (5 to 6 years). The children’s task was to distinguish between different animal voices. Rare and task-irrelevant changes of the sound ´s location served as deviants. Results revealed effects similar to those obtained in adult studies with a traditional auditory distraction paradigm: on the behavioral level, elongated reaction times were obtained in the animal voice discrimination task in location deviant trials. The deviance-related ERPs showed a pattern of negative and positive deflections resembling the MMN, P3a and RON. Therefore we assume that the children in the age of 5-6 years do already reveal a series of processes consisting of deviance detection, attentional involuntary orientation to the distractor, and voluntary reorientation to the primary task analogues to that in adults. However, subsequent studies are needed to investigate these effects and the development of distractibility in children in more detail.