Studies of cognition often use an “oddball” paradigm to study effects of stimulus novelty and significance on information processing. However, an oddball tends to be perceptually more novel than the standard, repeated stimulus as well as more relevant to the ongoing task, making it difficult to disentangle effects due to perceptual novelty and stimulus significance. In the current study, effects of perceptual novelty and significance on ERPs were assessed in a passive viewing context by presenting repeated and novel pictures (natural scenes) that either signaled significant information regarding the current context or not. A fronto-central N2 component was primarily affected by perceptual novelty, whereas a centro-parietal P3 component was modulated by both stimulus significance and novelty. The data support an interpretation that the N2 reflects perceptual fluency and is attenuated when a current stimulus matches an active memory representation and that the amplitude of the P3 reflects stimulus meaning and significance.

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