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Frontal EEG/ERP correlates of attentional processes, cortisol and motivational states in adolescents from lower and higher socioeconomic status

  • Amedeo D’Angiulli, Patricia Van Roon, Joanne Weinberg, Tim F. Oberlander, Ruth E. Grunau, Clyde Hertzman, Stefania Maggi

Event-related potentials (ERPs) and other electroencephalographic (EEG) evidence show that
32 frontal brain areas of higher and lower socioeconomic status (SES) children are recruited
33 differently during selective attention tasks. We assessed whether multiple variables related to
34 self-regulation (perceived mental effort) emotional states (e.g., anxiety, stress, etc.) and
35 motivational states (e.g., boredom, engagement, etc.) may co-occur or interact with frontal
36 attentional processing probed in two matched-samples of fourteen lower-SES and higher-SES
37 adolescents. ERP and EEG activation were measured during a task probing selective attention to
38 sequences of tones. Pre- and post-task salivary cortisol and self-reported emotional states were
39 also measured. At similar performance level, the higher-SES group showed a greater ERP
40 differentiation between attended (relevant) and unattended (irrelevant) tones than the lower-SES
41 group. EEG power analysis revealed a cross-over interaction, specifically, lower-SES
42 adolescents showed significantly higher theta power when ignoring rather than attending to
43 tones, whereas, higher-SES adolescents showed the opposite pattern. Significant theta
44 asymmetry differences were also found at midfrontal electrodes indicating left hypo-activity in
45 lower-SES adolescents. The attended vs. unattended difference in right midfrontal theta
46 increased with individual SES rank, and (independently from SES) with lower cortisol task
47 reactivity and higher boredom. Results suggest lower-SES children used additional
48 compensatory resources to monitor/control response inhibition to distracters, perceiving also
49 more mental effort, as compared to higher-SES counterparts. Nevertheless, stress, boredom and
50 other task-related perceived states were unrelated to SES. Ruling out presumed confounds, this
51 study confirms the midfrontal mechanisms responsible for the SES effects on selective attention
52 reported previously and here reflect genuine cognitive differences.

Keywords: Socioeconomic status, event-related potentials (ERPs), EEG power, EEG 58 asymmetry, auditory selective attention, salivary cortisol and executive control and self-regulation.

Publication type: Original Research

Frontiers in Neuroscience. 2012; XX(XX):XX.

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