Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Revisiting the Spread of Sparing in the Attentional Blink

Academic journal article Attention, Perception and Psychophysics

Revisiting the Spread of Sparing in the Attentional Blink

Article excerpt

Published online: 2 April 2015

© The Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2015

Abstract The attentional blink (AB) refers to a deficit in reporting the second of two targets (T2) in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream when this target is presented less than 500 ms after the onset of the first target (T1). It is under debate whether the AB originates from a limitation of cognitive resources or from an attentional suppression process triggered by a distractor or by target discontinuity. In this study, we placed a distractor (Dinter) or an extra target (Tinter) between T1 and T2 while at the same time manipulating the time interval between Dinter (or Tinter) and T2 (0, 200, or 500 ms). The level of attentional enhancement induced by the detection of T1 was also manipulated by adding external noise to T1. The results showed that, as compared to the dual-target condition, T2 performance was better in the consecutive-target condition, when T2 was close in time to Tinter (i.e., the spread of sparing), but was worse with a longer interval between T2 and the preceding item. Adding external noise to T1 improved T2 performance when T2 was close in time to the preceding item, irrespective of whether this item was Dinter or Tinter. These findings present difficulties for the existing models of the AB, although the overall pattern observed is generally more consistent with the episodic simultaneous-type, serial-token (eSTST) model than with conventional resource accounts or distractor-based attentional selection accounts of the AB.

Keywords Attentional blink . RSVP . Spread of sparing

When observers search for two targets in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) stream, they usually have no difficulty reporting the first target (T1). But if the second target (T2) appears after T1 onset with a stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA) of 200 to 500 ms, the T2 report accuracy drops dramatically relative to the performance at longer SOAs (e.g., longer than 500 ms). This phenomenon is known as the attentional blink (AB; Broadbent&Broadbent, 1987; Raymond, Shapiro, & Arnell, 1992).

Aimed at understanding the underlying mechanism of AB, several theorists have postulated that the AB originates from a capacity limitation of central processing resources, such as those for working memory consolidation (Jolicoeur & Dell'Acqua, 1998; Jolicoeur, Tombu, Oriet, & Stevanovski, 2002). According to these resource accounts,mental resources that are limited in capacity are required for working memory. The detection of a potential target triggers the opening of an attentional gate, allowing the perceptual representation of the target to enter the memory-encoding stage and initiate consolidation. The closing of this gate is sluggish, allowing the directly succeeding item to also enter the memory-encoding stage due to its temporal proximity to the target. Thus, if this T1 + 1 item is a distractor (i.e., distractor at lag 1), the processing of this distractor interferes with T1 consolidation, resulting in an extension of the time course of memory encoding for T1. Given the limitation of central processing resources, the transfer of all subsequently presented items to the memoryencoding stage may fail, due to depletion of the central resource by T1 processing, rendering the representations of these items vulnerable to decay or interruption. If this loss of representation occurs on T2, an effect of AB (i.e., a deficit of T2 report) is observed.

Resource accounts of the AB are supported by several lines of research. For example, an unreported T2 is nonetheless processed at a relatively high level-for example, the semantic level-indicating that the bottleneck of identifying a second target during the AB is not located at the perceptual processing stage (Chua, Goh, & Hon, 2001; Luck, Vogel, & Shapiro, 1996; Maki, Frigen, & Paulson, 1997; Shapiro, Driver, Ward, & Sorensen, 1997). Increasing the difficulty of encoding T1 into working memory by increasing memory load leads to more severe AB on T2, indicating that T2 performance varies as a function of the resource requirement of T1 processing (Akyürek, Hommel, & Jolicoeur, 2007; Akyürek, Leszczynski, & Schubö, 2010; Jolicoeur & Dell'Acqua, 1998; Ouimet & Jolicoeur, 2007; Scalf, Dux, & Marois, 2011). …

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