Bonmassar, C., Widmann, A., & Wetzel, N. (in press). The impact of novelty and emotion on attention-related neuronal and pupil responses in children. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.

The impact of novelty and emotion on attention-related neuronal and pupil responses in children

Focusing on relevant and ignoring irrelevant information is essential for many learning processes. The present study investigated attention-related brain activity and pupil dilation responses, evoked by task-irrelevant emotional novel sounds. In the framework of current theories about the relation between attention and the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system, we simultaneously registered event-related potentials (ERPs) in the EEG and changes in pupil diameter (PDR). Unexpected emotional negative and neutral environmental novel sounds were presented within a sequence of repeated standard sounds to 7–10-year-old children and to adults, while participants focused on a visual task. Novel sounds evoked distinctive ERP components, reflecting attention processes and a biphasic PDR in both age groups. Amplitudes of the novel-minus-standard ERPs were increased in children compared to adults, indicating immature neuronal basis of auditory attention in middle childhood. Emotional versus neutral novel sounds evoked increased responses in the ERPs and in the PDR in both age groups. This demonstrates the increased impact of emotional sounds on attention mechanisms and indicates an advanced level of emotional information processing in children. The similar pattern of novel-related PDR and ERPs is conforming to recent theories, emphasizing the role of the LC-NE system in attention processes adding a developmental perspective.


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

Fax: +49 341 97-39271