Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 319-338

First online:

Effects of visual attentional load on low-level auditory scene analysis

  • Benjamin J. DysonAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of Sussex Email author 
  • , Claude AlainAffiliated withRotman Research InstituteUniversity of Toronto
  • , Yu HeAffiliated withRotman Research Institute


The sharing of processing resources between the senses was investigated by examining the effects of visual task load on auditory event-related brain potentials (ERPs). In Experiment 1, participants completed both a zero-back and a one-back visual task while a tone pattern or a harmonic series was presented. N1 and P2 waves were modulated by visual task difficulty, but neither mismatch negativity (MMN) elicited by deviant stimuli from the tone pattern nor object-related negativity (ORN) elicited by mistuning from the harmonic series was affected. In Experiment 2, participants responded to identity (what) or location (where) in vision, while ignoring sounds alternating in either pitch (what) or location (where). Auditory ERP modulations were consistent with task difficulty, rather than with task specificity. In Experiment 3, we investigated auditory ERP generation under conditions of no visual task. The results are discussed with respect to a distinction between process-general (N1 and P2) and processspecific (MMN and ORN) auditory ERPs.