Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Attentional and Perceptual Sources of the Auditory Attentional Blink

Academic journal article Perception and Psychophysics

Attentional and Perceptual Sources of the Auditory Attentional Blink

Article excerpt

When a rapid succession of auditory stimuli is listened to, processing of the second of two successive targets among fillers is often impaired, a phenomenon known as the attentional blink (AB). Three experiments were conducted to examine the role of filler items in modulating the size of the auditory AB, using a two-alternative forced choice discrimination paradigm. In the first experiment, dual-stream presentations in which low- and high-pitch items were separated by six semitones were tested. A transient deficit in reporting the probe was observed in the presence of fillers that was greater when fillers were in the same stream as the probe. In the absence of a filler, there was a residual deficit, but this was not related to the time lag between the target and the probe. In the second and third experiments, in which single-stream presentations were used, a typical AB was found in the presence of homogeneous fillers, but heterogeneous fillers tended to produce a greater deficit. In the absence of a filler, there was little or no evidence of a blink. The pattern of results suggests that other attentional and perceptual factors contribute to the blink.

A notable example of a limitation to attentional selectivity is manifest in the attentional blink (AB) phenomenon. When two successive targets among nontargets (or fillers) in a rapidly presented sequence are to be reported, the second target (usually called the probe) is often missed if it is presented within approximately 500 msec of the first target (e.g., Broadbent & Broadbent, 1987; Raymond, Shapiro, & Arnell, 1992). Whether the AB reflects a fundamental limitation shared among some or all modalities is not certain (for a discussion, see, e.g., Arnell & Larson, 2002). In the present study, we sought to contribute toward characterizing the generality of the AB phenomenon by examining the degree to which the well-established features of the AB in the visual modality extend also to the auditory modality.

Although there is a substantial body of work on visual AB (see McLaughlin, Shore, & Klein, 2001, for a review), a thorough understanding of its auditory counterpart has been hampered by a relative dearth of studies. Certainly, the existence of auditory AB would constitute a challenge to theories that explain the AB purely in terms of visual mechanisms (e.g., Shapiro, Raymond, & Arnell, 1994). To date, however, the few results available point to a relatively more inconsistent effect in the auditory modality than in the visual modality. Some have gone so far as to claim that there is simply no AB for auditory sequences (Potter, Chun, Banks, & Muckenhoupt, 1998; see also Chun & Potter, 2001); others posit that the effect is attenuated in audition, relative to vision (e.g., Arnell & Jolicceur, 1999; Arnell & Larson, 2002; Soto-Faraco & Spence, 2002), whereas still others have reported a marked auditory AB (e.g., Duncan, Martens, & Ward, 1997; Goddard & Slawinski, 1999). Although on balance the evidence points to the existence of auditory AB phenomena-and hence, to the likelihood that the AB reflects a general limitation on cognition-it is certainly the case that a full functional characterization of the auditory AB is some way off (see Mondor, 1998, for a discussion; see also Arnell, 2001).

In the present article, interest centers on the role played by the context in which the probe and the target appear-that is, the role played by the presence and nature of the filler items in determining the magnitude of the blink. Such interest arises from two sources: (1) studies of the visual AB, in which fillers have been implicated as a key variable modulating the magnitude of the AB (e.g., Kawahara, 2003; Ross & Jolicoeur, 1999), and (2) the generalizations suggested by a body of work on auditory streaming that suggests that fillers play a significant role in isolating or incorporating single events within streams (see Bregman, 1990, for an overview). …

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