Alpha entrainment is responsible for the attentional blink phenomenon

Department of Physiological Psychology, University of Salzburg, Austria.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.36). 07/2012; 63(2):674-86. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.06.075
Source: PubMed


The attentional blink phenomenon is the reduced ability to report a second target (T2) after identifying a first target (T1) in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) of stimuli (e.g., letters), which are presented at approximately 10 items per second. Several explanations have been proposed, which focus primarily on cognitive aspects, such as attentional filter-, capacity limitation- and retrieval failure‐processes.
Here, we focus on the hypothesis that an entrainment of alpha oscillations (with a frequency of about 10 Hz) is a critical factor for the attentional blink phenomenon. Our hypothesis is based on the fact that item presentation rate in the RSVP typically lies in the alpha frequency range and is motivated by theories assuming an inhibitory function for alpha. We predict that entrainment – during the time window of T2 presentation – is larger for attentional blink (AB) items (when T2 cannot be reported) than for NoAB trials (when T2 cannot be reported).
The results support our hypothesis and show that alpha entrainment as measured by the amplitude of the alpha evoked response and the extent of alpha phase concentration is larger for AB than for NoAB trials. Together with the lack of differences in alpha power these findings demonstrate that the differences between AB and NoAB trials – during presentation onset of T2 – are due to an entrainment of alpha phase and not due to an amplitude modulation. Thus, we conclude that alpha entrainment may be considered the critical factor underlying the attentional blink phenomenon.

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    • "Alpha power and phase are known to vary in strength across time periods (Klimesch et al. 2007; Mathewson et al. 2009), and this may provide explanatory evidence for the finding that participants show AB on certain trials and not on others. Following on from this logic, Zauner et al. (2012) report results that alpha entrainment, as measured by the amplitude of the alpha evoked response, and the extent of alpha phase concentration, is larger for AB than for no AB trials and interpret this as a probable cause of AB. "
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    • "Convergent evidence for this comes from recent work using electroencephalogram (EEG) which has shown that pre-trial brain activity is correlated with AB performance. Specifically, MacLean and Arnell [32] found the alpha band activity (10–12 Hz) prior to the onset of a dual-target RSVP stream was suppressed and this reduction was more pronounced in trials where T2 was missed as opposed to reported accurately [33]. Crucially, this effect was only observed if T2 appeared within the AB temporal window, with the opposite effect observed when the second target was presented outside this window. "
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