My current research focus on how attention can be captured by deviating stimuli. I will briefly describe the paradigm I have used – the cross-modal oddball task. Before I go into the cross-modal oddball task I will describe the auditory oddball task. In the oddball paradigm the subjects are exposed to a repetitive stream of distracting sounds. Furthermore, they can be either passive (i.e., watching a film) or engaged in a task (i.e., making judgments of durations of the tones). Typically subjects are exposed to two types of  distractors; one standard, presented frequently (i.e., 80 % of trials), and an oddball (‘Novel’ or ‘Deviant’) presented on infrequent trials (i.e., 20 % of the trials).

Cross-modal oddball sound sequence
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Example of an oddball sequence. Black tones represent standard sounds and red represents deviant or novel sounds.

There is a plethora of research using the oddball paradigm in examining electrophysiological responses (i.e., ERPs) to deviating sounds (for reviews see; Bendixen, SanMiguel, & Schröger, 2012; Friedman, Cycowicz, & Gaeta, 2001). However, when engaged in a primary task there is also a behavioral cost – the response time to target tone is slowed by the presentation of a deviant (e.g., Berti, 2008).

Cross-modal oddball paradigm

So what is the cross-modal version of the oddball task?  In the cross-modal oddball task the task is usually a visual task. Moreover, the task is carried out while ignoring stimuli presented in another sensory modality (i.e., categorizing digits as odd or even while ignoring auditory distractors). Subjects are instructed to respond as fast and correct as they can. Furthermore, the subjects are to stay focused and not pay attention to other stimuli than the visual targets. Finally, the distractors are presented shortly prior to the visual targets (see image below for an illustration of the cross-modal oddball task).

Cross-modal oddball paradigm.
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llustration of trials in the Cross-modal oddball paradigm. Each trial starts with a distractor (in this case a vibration in the handles). Participants will than have some time to respond before the next trial starts automatically. Deviating sounds make participants respond slower in the visual categorization task and this effect is called deviance distraction effect.

Main focus in the cross-modal oddball paradigm has also been on how auditory deviants disrupts performance. Most cross-modal variants use some sort of visual categorization task. The distractors are presented subsequent to the visual task in a similar way as in the uni-modal oddball task. It has been found that deviant sounds prolong response latencies in the visual task. For an overview of the behavioral research carried out one can read a review by Parmentier (2013).


Andrés, P., Parmentier, F. B. R., & Escera, C. (2006). The effect of age on involuntary capture of attention by irrelevant sounds: a test of the frontal hypothesis of aging. Neuropsychologia, 44(12), 2564–8. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2006.05.005

Bendixen, A., SanMiguel, I., & Schröger, E. (2012). Early electrophysiological indicators for predictive processing in audition: a review. International Journal of Psychophysiology : Official Journal of the International Organization of Psychophysiology, 83(2), 120–31. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2011.08.003

Berti, S. (2008). Cognitive control after distraction: event-related brain potentials (ERPs) dissociate between different processes of attentional allocation. Psychophysiology, 45(4), 608–20. doi:10.1111/j.1469-8986.2008.00660.x

Escera, C., Yago, E., & Alho, K. (2001). Electrical responses reveal the temporal dynamics of brain events during involuntary attention switching. The European Journal of Neuroscience, 14(5), 877–83. Retrieved from

Friedman, D., Cycowicz, Y. M., & Gaeta, H. (2001). The novelty P3: an event-related brain potential (ERP) sign of the brain’s evaluation of novelty. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 25(4), 355–73. Retrieved from

Parmentier, F. B. R. (2013). The cognitive determinants of behavioral distraction by deviant auditory stimuli: a review. Psychological Research. doi:10.1007/s00426-013-0534-4

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