Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 19 November 2012 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00306

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

  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
  • 2Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada
  • 3Department of Cellular and Physiological Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 4Developmental Neurosciences and Child Health, Child and Family Research Institute Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 5Pediatrics Department, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 6Department of Epidemiology and Health Care, Vancouver, BC, Canada
  • 7Department of Psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada

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

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

Citation: D'Angiulli A, Van Roon PM, Weinberg J, Oberlander TF, Grunau RE, Hertzman C and Maggi S (2012) Frontal EEG/ERP correlates of attentional processes, cortisol and motivational states in adolescents from lower and higher socioeconomic status. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 6:306. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2012.00306

Received: 01 June 2012; Accepted: 24 October 2012;
Published online: 19 November 2012.

Edited by:

Rajeev D. Raizada, Cornell University, USA

Reviewed by:

Alexander J. Shackman, University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
Daniel Hackman, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Copyright © 2012 D'Angiulli, Van Roon, Weinberg, Oberlander, Grunau, Hertzman and Maggi. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in other forums, provided the original authors and source are credited and subject to any copyright notices concerning any third-party graphics etc.

*Correspondence: Amedeo D'Angiulli, Department of Neuroscience and Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies, Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive, Room 1316 Dunton Tower, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada. e-mail: amedeo@connect.carleton.ca

Back to top