Multitasking: Effects of processing multiple auditory feature patterns

Tova Miller, Sufen Chen, Wei Wei Lee, Elyse S. Sussman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


ERPs and behavioral responses were measured to assess how task-irrelevant sounds interact with task processing demands and affect the ability to monitor and track multiple sound events. Participants listened to four-tone sequential frequency patterns, and responded to frequency pattern deviants (reversals of the pattern). Irrelevant tone feature patterns (duration and intensity) and respective pattern deviants were presented together with frequency patterns and frequency pattern deviants in separate conditions. Responses to task-relevant and task-irrelevant feature pattern deviants were used to test processing demands for irrelevant sound input. Behavioral performance was significantly better when there were no distracting feature patterns. Errors primarily occurred in response to the to-be-ignored feature pattern deviants. Task-irrelevant elicitation of ERP components was consistent with the error analysis, indicating a level of processing for the irrelevant features. Task-relevant elicitation of ERP components was consistent with behavioral performance, demonstrating a "cost" of performance when there were two feature patterns presented simultaneously. These results provide evidence that the brain tracked the irrelevant duration and intensity feature patterns, affecting behavioral performance. Overall, our results demonstrate that irrelevant informational streams are processed at a cost, which may be considered a type of multitasking that is an ongoing, automatic processing of task-irrelevant sensory events.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1140-1148
Number of pages9
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • Attention
  • Auditory processes
  • Cognition
  • EEG
  • Normal volunteers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Biological Psychiatry


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