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Atypical auditory refractory periods in children from lower socio-economic status backgrounds: ERP evidence for a role of selective attention

International Journal of Psychophysiology
DOI: 10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2014.06.017
  • Socioeconomic Status
  • Ses
  • Refractory Periods
  • Erp
  • Attention
  • Auditory Processing
  • Economics
  • Education


Abstract Previous neuroimaging studies indicate that lower socio-economic status (SES) is associated with reduced effects of selective attention on auditory processing. Here, we investigated whether lower SES is also associated with differences in a stimulus-driven aspect of auditory processing: the neural refractory period, or reduced amplitude response at faster rates of stimulus presentation. Thirty-two children aged 3 to 8years participated, and were divided into two SES groups based on maternal education. Event-related brain potentials were recorded to probe stimuli presented at interstimulus intervals (ISIs) of 200, 500, or 1000ms. These probes were superimposed on story narratives when attended and ignored, permitting a simultaneous experimental manipulation of selective attention. Results indicated that group differences in refractory periods differed as a function of attention condition. Children from higher SES backgrounds showed full neural recovery by 500ms for attended stimuli, but required at least 1000ms for unattended stimuli. In contrast, children from lower SES backgrounds showed similar refractory effects to attended and unattended stimuli, with full neural recovery by 500ms. Thus, in higher SES children only, one functional consequence of selective attention is attenuation of the response to unattended stimuli, particularly at rapid ISIs, altering basic properties of the auditory refractory period. Together, these data indicate that differences in selective attention impact basic aspects of auditory processing in children from lower SES backgrounds.

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