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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Available from: Simon Hanslmayr, Oct 13, 2015
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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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    ABSTRACT: Attentional blink (AB) describes a visuo-perceptual phenomenon in which the second of 2 targets within a rapid serial visual presentation stream is not detected. There are several cognitive models attempting to explain the fundamentals of this information processing bottleneck. Here, we used electroencephalographic recordings and the analysis of interregional phase synchronization of rhythmical brain activity to investigate the neural bases of the AB. By investigating the time course of interregional phase synchronization separately for trials in which participants failed to report the second target correctly (AB trials) and trials in which no AB occurred, and by clustering interregional connections based on their functional similarity, it was possible to define several distinct cortical networks. Analyzing these networks comprising phase synchronization-over a large spectrum of brain frequencies from theta to gamma activity-it was possible to identify neural correlates for cognitive subfunctions involved in the AB, such as the encoding of targets into working memory, tuning of attentional filters, and the recruitment of general cognitive resources. This parallel activation of functionally distinct neural processes substantiates the eligibility of several cognitive models on the AB. © The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please e-mail:
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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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    ABSTRACT: Alpha-band oscillations are the dominant oscillations in the human brain and recent evidence suggests that they have an inhibitory function. Nonetheless, there is little doubt that alpha-band oscillations also play an active role in information processing. In this article, I suggest that alpha-band oscillations have two roles (inhibition and timing) that are closely linked to two fundamental functions of attention (suppression and selection), which enable controlled knowledge access and semantic orientation (the ability to be consciously oriented in time, space, and context). As such, alpha-band oscillations reflect one of the most basic cognitive processes and can also be shown to play a key role in the coalescence of brain activity in different frequencies.
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