Journal Article

Detrimental Effects of Irrelevant Speech on Serial Recall of Visual Items are Reflected in Reduced Visual N1 and Reduced Theta Activity

Nathan Weisz and Sabine J. Schlittmeier

in Cerebral Cortex

Volume 16, issue 8, pages 1097-1105
Published in print August 2006 | ISSN: 1047-3211
Published online October 2005 | e-ISSN: 1460-2199 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhj051
Detrimental Effects of Irrelevant Speech on Serial Recall of Visual Items are Reflected in Reduced Visual N1 and Reduced Theta Activity

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The term irrelevant sound effect (ISE) describes an empirically robust finding in which serial recall performance of visual items is reduced by irrelevant speech. At present little is known about its neurophysiological basis. Although some previous neuroelectric studies have concentrated on responses elicited by irrelevant background sound, whether the processing of visually presented to-be-remembered digits itself is affected by irrelevant speech has yet to be studied. An experiment (n = 20) was conducted in which serial recall performance for visually presented digits was tested during exposure to either irrelevant speech, continuous white noise or silence while measuring EEG activity. White noise was chosen as a control condition, because it constitutes auditory stimulation while leaving serial recall performance unimpaired. In addition to replicating the detrimental behavioural effect of irrelevant speech, an analogous speech-specific early decrease (∼160 ms) in the visual ERP (N1) and subsequently a reduced theta response (4–6 Hz; 400–800 ms) at right prefrontal electrodes were observed. Although irrelevant sound presentation was restricted to the visual presentation phase, power spectra reveal that the weaker theta response for speech persisted in a silent retention phase before serial recall. Based on such data we propose reevaluating the role attention plays in explaining the ISE.

Keywords: EEG; irrelevant sound effect; ISE; N1; theta

Journal Article.  7000 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neuroscience

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