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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

November 2012, Vol. 24, No. 11, Pages 2147-2154
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00275)
© 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Working Memory Capacity and Visual–Verbal Cognitive Load Modulate Auditory–Sensory Gating in the Brainstem: Toward a Unified View of Attention
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Two fundamental research questions have driven attention research in the past: One concerns whether selection of relevant information among competing, irrelevant, information takes place at an early or at a late processing stage; the other concerns whether the capacity of attention is limited by a central, domain-general pool of resources or by independent, modality-specific pools. In this article, we contribute to these debates by showing that the auditory-evoked brainstem response (an early stage of auditory processing) to task-irrelevant sound decreases as a function of central working memory load (manipulated with a visual–verbal version of the n-back task). Furthermore, individual differences in central/domain-general working memory capacity modulated the magnitude of the auditory-evoked brainstem response, but only in the high working memory load condition. The results support a unified view of attention whereby the capacity of a late/central mechanism (working memory) modulates early precortical sensory processing.