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Jason E. Reiss, James E. Hoffman, Frankie D. Heyward, Matthew M. Doran, Steven B. Most; ERP Evidence for temporary loss of control during the attentional blink. Journal of Vision 2008;8(6):12. doi: 10.1167/8.6.12.
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The attentional blink (AB) occurs when paying attention to one target (T1) results in impaired identification of a second target (T2) occurring 300–600 ms later. According to limited capacity accounts, T1 depletes the limited resources necessary for memory consolidation, allowing the T2 visual representation to decay and be overwritten. This explanation has recently been challenged by the “Temporary Loss of Control” theory (TLC) which proposes that processing of T1 temporarily interferes with the maintenance of information that defines T2 (e.g., “look for red digits”). Distractors that follow T1 can reset the filter settings exogenously, causing the filter setting for T2 to be lost. Consequently, T2 is not selected and fails to reach working memory. The current research was designed to provide a direct measure of perceptual control settings in order to determine whether maintenance of these settings is indeed interrupted by detection of targets. We examined two ERP components (occipital selection negativity and frontal selection positivity) that index the discrimination and selective processing of particular features (e.g., the color red). Experiment 1 required participants to identify both a digit (T1) and an odd colored letter (T2) among a stream of letter distractors. The amplitude of both selection components was suppressed for a short time following detection of T1. To determine if this pattern of findings was caused by the need to switch target categories between T1 and T2, a second experiment was conducted with digits serving as both targets. Once again, both selection components were suppressed following detection of T1. Taken together, these findings support the TLC theory in showing that maintaining a set for T2 is disrupted for a short period following detection of T1.
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