The generation of random sequences is considered to tax different executive functions. To explore the involvement of these functions further, brain potentials were recorded in 16 healthy young adults while either engaging in random number generation (RNG) by pressing the number keys on a computer keyboard in a random sequence or in ordered number generation (ONG) necessitating key presses in the canonical order. Key presses were paced by an external auditory stimulus to yield either fast (1 press/800 ms) or slow (1 press/1300 ms) sequences in separate runs. Attentional demands of random and ordered tasks were assessed by the introduction of a secondary task (key-press to a target tone). The P3 amplitude to the target tone of this secondary task was reduced during RNG, reflecting the greater consumption of attentional resources during RNG. Moreover, RNG led to a left frontal negativity peaking 140 ms after the onset of the pacing stimulus, whenever the subjects produced a true random response. This negativity could be attributed to the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and was absent when numbers were repeated. This negativity was interpreted as an index for the inhibition of habitual responses. Finally, in response locked ERPs a negative component was apparent peaking about 50 ms after the key-press that was more prominent during RNG. Source localization suggested a medial frontal source. This effect was tentatively interpreted as a reflection of the greater monitoring demands during random sequence generation.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Brain, Behavior and Metabolism (CBBM)