Load effects in auditory selective attention: Evidence for distinct facilitation and inhibition mechanisms


It is unknown whether facilitation and inhibition of stimulus processing represent one or two mechanisms in auditory attention. We performed electrophysiological experiments in humans to address these two competing hypothesis. Participants performed an attention task under low or high memory load. Facilitation and inhibition were measured by recording electrophysiological responses to attended and ignored sounds and comparing them to responses to these same sounds when attention was considered to be equally distributed towards all sounds. We observed two late frontally distributed components: a negative one in response to attended sounds, and a positive one to ignored sounds. These two frontally distributed responses had distinct timing and scalp topographies and were differentially affected by memory load. Taken together these results provide evidence that attention-mediated top-down control reflects the activity of distinct facilitation and inhibition mechanisms.