Instrumental tones and, in some instances, simple sine-wave tones were shown to evoke stronger auditory-evoked responses in musicians compared to nonmusicians. This effect was taken as an example for plasticity in the auditory cortex elicited by training. To date, however, it is unknown whether an enlarged cortical representation for (instrumental) tones or increased neuronal activity provoked by focused attention in musicians accounts for the reported difference. In an attempt to systematically investigate the influence of attention on the processing of simple sine wave and instrumental tones, we compared auditory-evoked potentials recorded from musicians and nonmusicians. During the electroencephalogram recording, the participants were involved in tasks requiring selective attention to specific sound features such as pitch or timbre. Our results demonstrate that the effect of selective attention on the auditory event-related potential (AEP) has a different time course and shows a different topography than the reproduced effect of music expertise at the N1 component or the previously demonstrated effect at the P2 component. N1 peak potentials were unaffected by attention modulation. These results indicate that the effect of music expertise, which was traced by current density mapping to the auditory cortex, is not primarily caused by selective attention, and it supports the view that increased AEPs on tones in musicians reflect an enlarged neuronal representation for specific sound features of these tones. However, independent from the N1–P2 complex, attention evoked an Nd-like negative component in musicians but not in nonmusicians, which suggests that plasticity also affects top–down processes.

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