Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Previous studies suggested that auditory change-specific neural responses are attention-independent and reflect central auditory processing. The automaticity of the brain's response to infrequent changes in pitch within a series of auditory tone pips was examined in parallel functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and event-related potential (ERP) studies. Subjects performed a continuous perceptual-motor visual tracking task at two levels of difficulty while simultaneously hearing a series of task-irrelevant standard tone pips and infrequent pitch-deviant tones. fMRI results revealed that the unattended pitch-deviant tones strongly activated superior temporal and frontal cortical regions. These activations were significantly modulated by the tracking difficulty of the primary task. ERP results revealed that the amplitude of the scalp-negative component evoked by deviant tones (MMN) was attenuated during the more difficult tracking task. Our results demonstrate that the brain's response to task-irrelevant sensory changes is strongly influenced by intermodal attentional demands.