Objective: We investigated the changes in the somatosensory P100 and N140 during passive (reading) versus active tasks (counting, button pressing) and oddball (target=20%, standard=80%) versus deviant alone conditions (standards were omitted). Methods: Nine healthy subjects performed the 3 tasks (reading, counting and button pressing) under two conditions. Standard and target electrical stimuli were presented in a random order to the index or middle fingers of the left hand at a constant 800 ms interstimulus interval in the oddball conditions. In the deviant alone conditions, only target stimuli were presented with the same timing as in the oddball conditions. Results: The N140 amplitude increased for the deviant alone stimuli compared with the oddball standard and target stimuli regardless of whether the task was passive or active, indicating passive shifts of attention related to temporal infrequency. The P100 amplitude also increased for the deviant alone stimuli compared with the oddball standard and target stimuli in both passive and active tasks, but the enhancement seemed to be even smaller than that of the N140 amplitude. Conclusions: The somatosensory N140 passively increased even if subjects tried to attend actively to the stimulus source when the deviant alone condition was used. This change in N140 amplitude may be related to a strong orienting effect against a 'silent' background. Significance: The present study provided evidence that the N140 is an indicator of passive attention against a silent background when the deviant alone condition or long interstimulus interval was used.
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