The importance of paying attention to a task at hand is emphasized from an early age and extends throughout life. The costs of attentional focus, however, include the potential to miss important changes in the environment, so some process for monitoring nontask information is essential. In this study, a model of latent cognitive variables was applied to data obtained from a two-alternative forced-choice task where participants identified the longer of two sounds. Using an adaptive procedure task, accuracy was maintained at a higher or lower level creating two difficulties, and the sounds were heard either where frequency changes in the sound were rare or common (oddball and multistandard conditions, respectively). Frequency changes created stimulus-driven “distraction” effects in the oddball sequence only, and cognitive modeling (using the linear ballistic accumulator) attributed these effects to slowed accumulation of evidence about tone length on these trials. Concurrent recording of auditory ERPs revealed these delays in evidence accumulation to be related to the amplitude of N2 or mismatch negativity period and P300 response components. In contrast, the response time on trials after a rare frequency change was associated with increased caution in decision-making. Results support the utility of mapping behavioral and ERP measures of performance to latent cognitive processes that contribute to performance and are consistent with a momentary diversion of resources to evaluate the deviant sound feature and remodel predictions about sound.

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