The attentional blink freezes spatial attention allocation to targets, not distractors: evidence from human electrophysiology

Vincent Jetté Pomerleau, Ulysse Fortier-Gauthier, Isabelle Corriveau, John J McDonald, Roberto Dell'Acqua, Pierre Jolicœur
Brain Research 2014 April 22, 1559: 33-45
Previous work found a significant reduction of the amplitude of the N2pc ERP component during the attentional blink in response to lateral visual targets, suggesting that the allocation of attention to visual targets is impaired during the attentional blink. Recent theorizing on the processes reflected by the N2pc suggests the possibility of distinct sets of neural mechanisms underlying its generation, one responsible for target activation, and one for distractor inhibition. To disentangle whether either or both of these mechanisms are impaired during the attentional blink, an RSVP sequence of circles, equidistant from fixation was used. The first target frame (T1) contained the same repeated target colour circle and target whereas the second target frame (T2) contained a distractor colour singleton as well as a target colour singleton. Only the target or only the distractor was presented at a lateral position; the other singleton was presented on the vertical midline so as not to elicit any event-related lateralization. Impaired T2 report accuracy at a short stimulus-onset asynchrony (SOA) was accompanied by a significant delay of the N2pc to lateral T2 targets when compared to a long SOA condition. No such delay was found when the lateralized stimulus was a distractor, suggesting that the attentional blink impacts attention allocation to targets, not distractors. We also observed a lateralized component earlier than the N2pc, a posterior contralateral positivity (Ppc) that did not depend on T1-T2 SOA and that was elicited by both lateral targets and distractors. We conclude that, contrary to N2pc, the Ppc likely reflects activity of bottom-up mechanisms responding unselectively to asymmetrical visual displays.

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