The time course of novelty processing in sensation seeking: An ERP study
, Jing Xu
, Yuan Jin
, Wenbin Sheng
, Ying Ma
, Xiaoyu Zhang
, Huijuan Shen
Department of Psychology, Dalian Medical University, Liaoning Province, China
Department of Neurology and Psychiatry, First Afﬁliated Hospital, Dalian Medical University, Liaoning Province, China
Dalian Medical University, Liaoning Province, China
Received 21 October 2009
Received in revised form 1 February 2010
Accepted 5 February 2010
Available online 19 February 2010
Novelty processing is critical for human survival in a rapidly changing environment. However, how and
when the orientation attention reﬂected by novelty processing is modulated by personality elements such as
sensation seeking is still opened. The present study investigated the time course of novelty processing in
sensation seeking by recording the event-related potentials (ERPs) in a visual novelty oddball task. High and
low sensation seekers performed a visual oddball task, in which participants were instructed to detect an
inverted triangle (target) and ignore both upright triangle (standard) and unrepeated line drawings of
pseudo-objects deviant from participants' long-term memory (novelty). While there were no group
differences in ERPs to standard and target stimuli, ERPs to novel stimuli showed a strong modulation by
sensation seeking trait. The low sensation seekers, compared with the high sensation seekers, exhibited an
increased N2 to novel stimuli at frontal sites. Moreover, the Pd3 component reﬂecting purely novelty
processing was enhanced and less habituated in the high sensation seeking participants. The current ﬁndings
implicated that low sensation seekers showed sensitivity to novelty detection, whereas high sensation
seekers displayed stronger and more sustained novelty appraisal.
© 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
As a synonymy of motivation to some extent, sensation seeking is a
personality trait deﬁned as the tendency to seek out thrilling and
exciting activities and to take risks as well as to avoid boredom (e.g.
Zuckerman, 1994; Zuckerman et al., 1978; Zuckerman et al., 1974).
According to an inﬂuential theory (Zuckerman, 1994), sensation
seeking is associated with the appetitive motivational system and
high sensation seekers show more exploratory behavior in novel
situation and stronger orienting response to novel stimuli than do low
sensation seekers. However, recent reports established the correlation
between sensation seeking and the aversive–withdrawal system,
indicating that compared with high sensation seekers, low sensation
seekers present higher cautiousness about and are more easily
sensitive to the environmental changes (Joseph et al., 2009; Lang
et al., 2005; Lissek et al., 2005; Lissek and Powers, 2003).
It is well documented that human ability to respond rapidly to
novel events is fundamental to survival, which has been linked to
individual differences including development (Stige et al., 2007), age
(Fjell and Walhovd, 2005; Knight, 1987), gender (Matsubayashi et al.,
2008) and personality (Klein et al., 1999; Matsubayashi et al., 2008).
As one of the key features relevant to sensation seeking, the
preference for processing novelty has been investigated using
neuro-imaging methods. For example, a functional magnetic reso-
nance imaging (fMRI) study showed enhanced activation in prefron-
tal, posterior temporal regions and the hippocampus in high
experience seekers, suggesting a tendency to search for novel
stimulation in experience seekers (Samson et al., 2009). To high
arousal stimuli, interestingly, while high sensation seekers showed
stronger activation in brain regions associated with arousal and
reinforcement, low sensation seekers showed greater activation in
regions involved in emotional regulation, with higher sensitivity to
the emotional stimuli than did high sensation seekers. These data
suggested distinctive neurobiological basis between two groups, i.e.
an overactive approach system in higher sensation seekers and a
stronger inhibitory system for low sensation seekers (Joseph et al.,
2009). However, the time course of processing novelty in high and
low sensation seekers has not been investigated widely. In the present
study, we will assess this question by recording event-related
potentials (ERPs) elicited by visual novel stimuli, which reﬂects
real-time changes in neurophysiologic activity.
Several ERP components may index different stages in processing
novel stimuli. Of particular relevance is a frontally oriented P3
component, the novelty P3 (sometimes P3a). This component is elicited
by unexpected, task-irrelevant novel (infrequent) events and peaks at
around 300 ms post-stimulus onset. Different from the target P3 (P3b)
elicited by task-relevant oddball (infrequent) stimuli that is thought to
reﬂect the updating of working memory related to stimulus expectancy
(Donchin and Coles, 1988) and the allocation of attention resources
toward the processing of target events (Polich and Kok, 1995), the
International Journal of Psychophysiology 76 (2010) 57–63
⁎ Corresponding author. No. 222, Zhongshan Road, Dalian, Liaoning Province 116011,
China. Tel.: + 86 411 83635963 3095; fax: + 86 411 83622844.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (J. Xu).
0167-8760/$ – see front matter © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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