Evidence that the Attention Blink Reflects Categorical Perceptual Dynamics

AbstractAmong the numerous formal and informal theories of the attentional blink, the common theoretical thread is that the deficit stems from selective attention and working memory processes being tied up in processing the first target (T1) when the second target (T2) appears. Rusconi and Huber (2017) challenged this view by proposing the 'perceptual wink' model of the AB, which posits that for categorical AB tasks (e.g., number/letter) the deficit reflects a failure to perceive that T2 belonged to the target category. The model makes the assumption that perception is 'multi-faceted'; that is, there are separate, independent perceptual representations for an item's identity and its category, and that either representation can be used to drive performance (e.g., trigger attentional encoding) depending on the task demands. To differentiate between attention versus perceptual accounts of the AB, we used a stripped down RSVP task where participants were asked to either report the identity or category of the third item in a sequence of characters. In support of the perceptual account, we found priming for identity or category depending on the task, and we found that the category results were analogous to the AB and the spread of sparing even though the first character was not a target and there was no need to selectively filter items into working memory.

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