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Irina Harris, Paul Dux; Failure of distractor inhibition in the attentional blink. Journal of Vision 2007;7(9):652. doi: 10.1167/7.9.652.
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We investigated whether a failure of distractor inhibition contributes to the magnitude of the attentional blink (AB). In an earlier study, Dux, Coltheart and Harris (2006) demonstrated that when the distractors immediately before and after Target 1 (T1−1 and T1+1) were identical, the magnitude of the AB was reduced. This distractor repetition effect was interpreted as evidence of distractor inhibition - i.e., if the T1−1 distractor had been successfully inhibited, then this stimulus would be easier to suppress again when it appeared in the T1+1 location and thus, would interfere less with T1 processing, leading to an attenuated AB. The present study tested whether this distractor repetition effect is dependent on attention. Here, subjects viewed dual-target rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) streams containing two letter targets amongst digit distractors, where the distractors that directly preceded and succeeded Target 2 (T2−1 and T2+1) were either identical to each other or different. Distractor repetition again attenuated the AB, but this effect only occurred at Lag 2 or, in other words, when the T2−1 stimulus appeared in the Lag 1 position. It is well known that items presented at Lag 1 often undergo attentive processing, resulting in Lag 1 sparing. Thus, our results demonstrate that the distractor repetition effect is dependent on attention and that a failure to inhibit distractors contributes to the AB.
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