Event-related potentials (ERPs) were recorded in a three stimulus oddball task from 16 patients who had sustained a severe closed head injury at least 6 months before testing, and from 16 control subjects. The stimuli comprised a random sequence of frequent non-target tones (P = 0.70), rare target tones (P = 0.15), and rare novel sounds (P = 0.15). The task requirement was to respond promptly to each target tone. From a latency of 200 msec onwards, the ERPs evoked by frequent nontargets were substantially more negative-going in the head- injured than in the control group. When this difference in the ERPs to the frequent tones was taken into account, there was no evidence to suggest that either the latency or the amplitude of the target-evoked N2 and P3b components differed between the groups. The novel stimuli evoked a prominent P3a component. The amplitude and scalp distribution of this component differed little between the groups, but its peak latency was reliably longer in the head-injured subjects. The findings in respect of the N2 and P3b components suggest that impairments in early processing of task-relevant stimuli are not an invariant feature of closed head injury. The findings regarding P3a suggest that, in the majority of patients, head injury has only a limited effect on the neural systems underlying involuntary shifts of attention.
- Event-related potentials; performance; dysfunction; stimuli; p300