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Sander Martens, Stefan Wierda, Mathijs Dun, Michal de Vries, Henderikus Smid; Musical Minds: Attentional blink reveals modality-specific restrictions. Journal of Vision 2015;15(12):1233. doi: 10.1167/15.12.1233.
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© ARVO (1962-2015); The Authors (2016-present)
Background: Formal musical training is known to have positive effects on attentional and executive functioning, processing speed, and working memory. Consequently, one may expect to find differences in the dynamics of temporal attention between musicians and non-musicians. Here we address the question whether that is indeed the case, and whether any beneficial effects of musical training on temporal attention are modality specific or generalize across sensory modalities. Methodology/Principal findings: When two targets are presented in close temporal succession, most people fail to report the second target, a phenomenon known as the attentional blink (AB). We measured and compared AB magnitude for musicians and non-musicians using auditory or visually presented letters and digits. Relative to non-musicians, the auditory AB was both attenuated and delayed in musicians, whereas the visual AB was larger. Non-musicians with a large auditory AB tended to show a large visual AB. However, neither a positive nor negative correlation was found in musicians, suggesting that at least in musicians, attentional restrictions within each modality are completely separate. Conclusion/Significance: AB magnitude within one modality can generalize to another modality, but this turns out not to be the case for every individual. Formal musical training seems to have a domain-general, but modality-specific beneficial effect on selective attention. The results fit with the idea that a major source of attentional restriction as reflected in the AB lies in modality-specific, independent sensory systems rather than a central amodal system. The findings demonstrate that individual differences in AB magnitude can provide important information about the modular structure of human cognition.
Meeting abstract presented at VSS 2015
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