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Barry Giesbrecht; Concurrent task demands determine whether personal names survive the attentional blink. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):595. doi: 10.1167/7.9.595.
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Whether conversing with a colleague in a crowded poster session or with a friend at a busy restaurant, people can selectively attend to only one voice at a time while ignoring the surrounding cacophony (e.g., Cherry, 1953). However, personal experience tells us attention can be disrupted from one's current conversation if one's own name is mentioned within earshot (e.g., Moray, 1959). This ‘cocktail party effect’ suggests that high-priority information is processed without attention. Consistent with this view, studies of the attentional blink phenomenon (AB, Raymond et al., 1992) — an impairment in the detection or identification of the second of two masked targets presented in rapid succession — have found that in contrast to other names and mundane objects, detection of personal names and other salient information is not impaired during the AB (e.g., Shapiro et al., 1997; Mack et al., 2002). In contrast to these studies of the AB, studies of spatial attention suggest that the extent to which high priority information is processed without attention depends on task load (Harris & Pashler, 2004; Pessoa et al., 2002). The purpose of the present study was to test whether the extent to which personal names survive the AB also depends on concurrent task demands. Subjects were presented with two masked targets in rapid succession. The difficulty of the first target task (T1) was manipulated and the second target (T2) was either the participant's own name or someone else's name. Consistent with the hypothesis that concurrent task demands modulate the extent to which high-priority stimuli are processed, when T1 was easy, there was no AB if T2 was the participant's own name, but when T1 was difficult, the AB for one's own name was as large as the AB for someone else's name.
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