Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
We investigated the role of attention in feature binding in the auditory and the visual modality. One auditory and one visual experiment used the mismatch negativity (MMN and vMMN, respectively) event-related potential to index the memory representations created from stimulus sequences, which were either task-relevant and, therefore, attended or task-irrelevant and ignored. In the latter case, the primary task was a continuous demanding within-modality task. The test sequences were composed of two frequently occurring stimuli, which differed from each other in two stimulus features (standard stimuli) and two infrequently occurring stimuli (deviants), which combined one feature from one standard stimulus with the other feature of the other standard stimulus. Deviant stimuli elicited MMN responses of similar parameters across the different attentional conditions. These results suggest that the memory representations involved in the MMN deviance detection response encoded the frequently occurring feature combinations whether or not the test sequences were attended. A possible alternative to the memory-based interpretation of the visual results, the elicitation of the McCollough color-contingent aftereffect, was ruled out by the results of our third experiment. The current results are compared with those supporting the attentive feature integration theory. We conclude that (1) with comparable stimulus paradigms, similar results have been obtained in the two modalities, (2) there exist preattentive processes of feature binding, however, (3) conjoining features within rich arrays of objects under time pressure and/or long-term retention of the feature-conjoined memory representations may require attentive processes.