Sleep deprivation moderates neural processes associated with passive auditory capture

Alexandra Muller-Gass, Kenneth Campbell
Brain and Cognition 2019, 132: 89-97
Sleep loss has a major effect on cognitive tasks that are dependent on the maintenance of active sustained attention. This study examines the effects of sleep deprivation on automatic information processing, more specifically, its effect on processes leading to involuntary auditory attention capture by task-irrelevant auditory events. Two experiments were run. In the first, 13 participants were totally sleep-deprived (TSD); in the second, 16 participants were partially sleep-deprived (PSD), sleeping only four hours. Event-related potentials were recorded while participants discriminated the duration of equiprobable short and long auditory tones. At rare times, a small change to the pitch of these stimuli occurred. This deviant was however irrelevant to the duration detection task. As expected, TSD had a significant effect on the attention-dependent duration detection task; performance was worse and the P3b, associated with ease of detection, was attenuated. PSD had a similar, but reduced effect. Critically, the small pitch deviant resulted in less behavioural distraction following TSD compared to normal sleep.Consistent with this, the P3a, associated with the attention capture process, was significantly reduced following both TSD and PSD. Processes related to the passive switching of attention to potentially critical, but unattended, stimulus events are moderated by sleep deprivation.

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