The question whether spatial selective attention is necessary in order to process vocal affective prosody has been controversially discussed in sighted individuals: whereas some studies argue that attention is required in order to process emotions, other studies conclude that vocal prosody can be processed even outside the focus of spatial selective attention. Here, we asked whether spatial selective attention is necessary for the processing of affective prosodies after visual deprivation from birth. For this purpose, pseudowords were presented at the left or right loudspeaker and spoken in happy, neutral, fearful or threatening prosodies. Congenitally blind individuals (N = 8) and sighted controls (N=13) had to attend to one of the loudspeakers and detect rare pseudowords presented at the attended loudspeaker during EEG recording. Emotional prosody of the syllables was task-irrelevant. Blind individuals outperformed sighted controls by being more efficient in detecting deviant syllables at the attended loudspeaker. Higher auditory N1 amplitude was observed in blind individuals compared to sighted controls. Additionally, sighted controls showed enhanced attention-related ERP amplitudes in response to fearful and threatening voices during the time range of the N1. By contrast, blind individuals revealed enhanced ERP amplitudes in attended relative to unattended locations irrespective of the affective valence in all time windows (110-350 ms). These effects were mainly observed at posterior electrodes. The results provide evidence for “emotion-general” auditory spatial selective attention effects in congenitally blindness and provide further indirect support for the idea of reorganization of the voice processing brain system following visual deprivation from birth.
Copyright © 2020. Published by Elsevier B.V.