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.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Biological Psychiatry
- Behavioral Neuroscience
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology