Human Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potentials Fail to Provide Evidence of Efferent Modulation of Auditory Input During Attentional Tasks
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Efferent modulation of auditory input at the level of the brainstem during attention-demanding tasks has been described in animal studies. Attempts to demonstrate these effects in humans have produced conflicting results, however. These studies are reviewed with particular reference to those animal experiments that have demonstrated peripheral effects. The human experiments have used a number of attentional conditions which have not been related either to each other or to the successful animal work. Two of the most important conditions in these studies--the use of an intermodal attention task and the manipulation of attentional states--have been examined rarely or not at all in the human research. Two experiments were conducted to investigate the possibility of attention-related effects on the human brainstem auditory evoked potential. These experiments were designed to examine experimental conditions common to both successful and unsuccessful attempts to demonstrate attention-driven efferent modulation at the periphery in humans. Also examined was the gradation of attention effects on efferent modulation demonstrated in animals but never studied in humans. No significant changes in either the latency or the amplitude of the brainstem auditory evoked potential were found in any of the attention-demanding conditions. Results are discussed in terms of psychophysiological theories of attention. Also, the interpretation of the most recent animal work is questioned.
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