EEG and fMRI studies of the effects of stimulus properties on the control of attention

  • Carlos Andrés Mugruza Vassallo

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In this dissertation the effects of variations in stimulus properties and CTOA, in auditory attention tasks were explored using recently developed approaches to EEG analysis including LIMO. The last experiment was structured using information theory, designing an effective experiment. Four studies were carried out using a number parity decision task, that employed different combinations of cueing Tone (T), Novel (N) and the Goal (G) stimuli. In the first EEG study, contrary to previous findings (Polich 2002, 2007) in control participants, no correlation between the time of a novel condition to the next novel condition and P300 amplitude was found. Therefore single trial across-subject averaging of participants’ data revealed significant correlations (r > .3) of stimulus properties (such as probability, frequency, amplitude and duration) on P300, and even r > .5 was found when N was an environmental sound in schizophrenic patients. In the second EEG study, simultaneously with fMRI recordings, the participants that showed significant behavioural distraction evoked brain activations and differences in both hemispheres (similar to Corbetta, 2002, 2008) while the participants, as a whole, produced significant activations mainly in left cortical and subcortical regions. A context analysis was run in distracted participants contrasting the trials immediately prior to the G trials, resulting in different prefrontal activations, which was consistent with studies of prefrontal control of visual attention (Koechlin 2003, 2007). In the third EEG study, the distractor noise type was manipulated (white vs environmental sounds) as well as presence or absence of scanner background noise in a blocked design. Results showed consistent P300, MMN and RON due to environmental noise. In addition, using time constants found in MEG results (Lu, Williamson & Kaufman, 1992) and adding the CTOA to the analysis, an information theory framework was calculated. After the simulation of the information of the experiment, a saddle indentation in the curve of the information measure based on the states of the incoming signal at around 300 ms CTOA was found. This saddle indentation was evident in more than 60 novel trials. In the fourth study, the CTOA and stimulus properties were manipulated in a parametric experiment. Based on the three studies, reducing complexity if the task (first study), using more than 60 stimuli in the novel conditions (third study). The CTOA randomly varying between 250 ms or 500 ms. Thirty-eight ANCOVA with 2 categorical and 1 continuous regressors were conducted and determined which time and channels elicited reliably signatures (p<.05) in the whole participants at short CTOA. Results revealed differences for the waveforms of current condition by depending on which condition appeared previously as well in terms of frequency and duration in scalp frontal electrodes (such as the second study). These results were interpreted as a consequence of switching between modes of attention and alerting states which resulted in the activation of frontal areas. Moreover, contextual analyses showed that systematic manipulation of stimulus properties allowed the visualization of the relationships between CTOA, executive function and orienting of attention.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDouglas Potter (Supervisor)


  • Attention
  • Electroencephalography (EEG)
  • Event Related Potential (ERP)
  • Executive function
  • P300
  • MissMatch Negativity (MMN)
  • Reorienting Negativity (RON)
  • Cue-Target Onset Asynchrony (CTOA)
  • Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
  • Linear Modelling (LIMO)
  • Orienting of attention
  • Stimulus properties

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