The attentional blink reflects a delay in selecting T2 for working memory consolidation

Mark R. Nieuwenstein*, Ignace T C Hooge, Rob H.J. van der Lubbe

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    The attentional blink (AB) refers to the phenomenon that observers often fail to report the second of two visual targets (i.e., T1 and T2) when these targets are presented within 500 ms in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) sequence of distractors. This phenomenon has been proposed to reflect capacity limitations in working memory consolidation (WMC), such that T2 can not engage WMC while T1 is being consolidated. However, based on the finding that errors in reporting T2 typically concern intrusions of the item directly following T2 (Chun, 1997), we propose an alternative account. Specifically, consolidation of T2 may fail because T1 consolidation delays the intitiation of WMC for T2 to such an extent that T2 has already been overwritten by the following item in the RSVP sequence, thereby leading to intrusions of the item following T2. This account predicts attenuation of the AB when WMC is initiated 100 ms before T2 is presented. In the present study, we investigated whether a distractor sharing a target defining feature can be used to initiate WMC before actual presentation of T2. Observers were to report two red digits presented in an RSVP sequence of black letters. On one half of the trials, T2 was preceded by a red letter (i.e. cue). The results showed that the AB was significantly attenuated on cued trials. Moreover, the increase in second target identification did not hamper first target identification. Consistent with our account, these findings support the view that detection of a distractor sharing a target defining feature initiates WMC, thereby leading to an attenuation of the AB for T2s that are presented in direct succession to this distractor.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of vision
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2003


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