Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

The Absence of an Auditory-Visual Attentional Blink Is Not Due to Echoic Memory

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

The Absence of an Auditory-Visual Attentional Blink Is Not Due to Echoic Memory

Article excerpt

The second of two targets is often missed when presented shortly after the first target-a phenomenon referred to as the attentional blink (AB). Whereas the AB is a robust phenomenon within sensory modalities, the evidence for cross-modal ABs is rather mixed Here, we test the possibility that the absence of an auditory-visual AB for visual letter recognition when streams of tones are used is due to the efficient use of echoic memory, allowing for the postponement of auditory processing. However, forcing participants to immediately process the auditory target, either by presenting interfering sounds during retrieval or by making the first target directly relevant for a speeded response to the second target, did not result in a return of a cross-modal AB. The findings argue against echoic memory as an explanation for efficient cross-modal processing. Instead, we hypothesized that a cross-modal AB may be observed when the different modalities use common representations, such as semantic representations. In support of this, a deficit for visual letter recognition returned when the auditory task required a distinction between spoken digits and letters.

To investigate the temporal dynamics and limitations of the human visual system, a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task is often used. Within RSVP tasks, multiple stimuli are rapidly presented one at a time. When participants are asked to identify and report two target stimuli (T1 and T2) from this rapid stream, they often show a deficit in identifying T2 when T2 is presented within half a second after T1. This temporal limitation of the visual system is known as the attentional blink (AB; Raymond, Shapiro, & Arnell, 1992).

Shapiro, Raymond, and Arnell (1994) proposed that the AB phenomenon is a purely visual limitation. However, recent studies have generated compelling evidence for the same limitation when two target stimuli are auditory targets within a rapid serial auditory presentation (RSAP), indicating that an AB can be found in modalities other than the visual one (Arnell & Jenkins, 2004; Arnell & Jolicoeur, 1999; Duncan, Martens, & Ward, 1997; Hein, Parr, & Duncan, 2006; Potter, Chun, Banks, & Muckenhoupt, 1998; Shen & Mondor, 2006; Soto-Faraco & Spence, 2002; Tremblay, Vachon, & Jones, 2005). Furthermore, Hillstrom, Shapiro, and Spence (2002) observed an AB within the tactile modality, further supporting the idea that the AB phenomenon is not a pure visual limitation.

An important question is, then, whether an AB can also occur between modalities. Duncan et al. (1997) and, more recently, Hein et al. (2006) and Soto-Faraco and Spence (2002) failed to find an AB when T1 and T2 were from different modalities (auditory-visual or visual-auditory), despite clear ABs when the targets were from the same modality. Duncan et al. therefore proposed that the AB deficit is a modality-specific restriction.

In contrast, Arnell and Jolicceur (1999), as well as Potter et al. (1998), were more successful in observing an AB deficit when T1 and T2 were from different modalities (auditory-visual and visual-auditory). In Arnell and Jolicceur's study, participants were asked to identify a digit (T1) and to detect the presence of a letter "X" (T2) among visual and spoken distractor letters. The reported cross-modal effects suggest that the AB involves a central amodal processing limitation. Furthermore, Soto-Faraco et al. (2002) observed an AB between the visual and tactile modalities, further supporting the idea that the AB reflects an amodal bottleneck.

Potter et al. (1998) replicated the cross-modal AB when participants were asked to report a digit in one modality (auditory or visual) followed by a letter in the other modality (following Arnell and Jolicceur's task). However, T2 remained unaffected when both targets were digits among distractor letters. Potter et al. concluded that the crossmodal AB was absent when the two targets belonged to the same task set and that the cross-modal AB is therefore due to task set reconfiguration. …

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