Steering demands diminish the early-P3, late-P3 and RON components of the event-related potential of task-irrelevant environmental sounds

Menja Scheer, Heinrich Bulthoff, Lewis L. Chuang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

17 Citations (Scopus)


The current study investigates the demands that steering places on mental resources. Instead of a conventional dual-task paradigm, participants of this study were only required to perform a steering task while task-irrelevant auditory distractor probes (environmental sounds and beep tones) were intermittently presented. The event-related potentials (ERPs), which were generated by these probes, were analyzed for their sensitivity to the steering task's demands. The steering task required participants to counteract unpredictable roll disturbances and difficulty was manipulated either by adjusting the bandwidth of the roll disturbance or by varying the complexity of the control dynamics. A mass univariate analysis revealed that steering selectively diminishes the amplitudes of early P3, late P3, and the re-orientation negativity (RON) to task-irrelevant environmental sounds but not to beep tones. Our findings are in line with a three-stage distraction model, which interprets these ERPs to reflect the post-sensory detection of the task-irrelevant stimulus, engagement, and re-orientation back to the steering task. This interpretation is consistent with our manipulations for steering difficulty. More participants showed diminished amplitudes for these ERPs in the “hard” steering condition relative to the “easy” condition. To sum up, the current work identifies the spatiotemporal ERP components of task-irrelevant auditory probes that are sensitive to steering demands on mental resources. This provides a non-intrusive method for evaluating mental workload in novel steering environments.

Original languageEnglish
Article number73
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Issue numberMAR2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Mar 1



  • Distraction
  • Early P3
  • Late P3
  • Mental workload
  • MMN
  • RON
  • Steering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Neurology
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology

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