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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    • "There are two studies in which entrainment and the AB were related. First, it was found that alpha entrainment (without an additional external rhythm except the RSVP rhythm) is larger for trials in which T2 cannot be reported than for trials in which T2 can be reported (Zauner et al., 2012). The authors argue that for stimuli presented with a frequency of about 10 Hz (i.e., approximately like the alpha frequency) those processes that underlie the generation of the P1 of the visual event related potential in the EEG (and that are related to alpha) interfere with those processes that enable the encoding of stimuli, specifically of T2. "
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    ABSTRACT: The attentional blink (AB) is one impressive demonstration of limited attentional capacities in time: a second target (T2) is often missed when it should be detected within 200–600 ms after a first target. According to the dynamic attending theory, attention cycles oscillatory. Regular rhythms (i.e., pulses) should evoke expectations regarding the point of the next occurrence of a tone/element in the rhythm. At this point, more attentional resources should be provided. Thus, if rhythmic information can be used to optimize attentional release, we assume a modulation of the AB when an additional rhythm is given. We tested this idea in two experiments with a visual (Experiment 1) or an auditory (Experiment 2) rhythm. We found large AB effects. However, the rhythm did not modulate the AB. If the rhythm had an influence at all, then Experiment 2 showed that an auditory rhythm (or stimulus) falling on T2 might generally boost visual processing, irrespective of attentional resources as indexed by the AB paradigm. Our experiments suggest that oscillatory cycling attention does not affect temporal selection as tapped in the AB paradigm.
    Full-text · Article · Dec 2015 · Frontiers in Psychology
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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:
    Full-text · Article · Mar 2015 · Cerebral Cortex
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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: Key to successfully negotiating our environment is our ability to adapt to current settings based on recent experiences and behaviour. Response conflict paradigms (e.g., the Stroop task) have provided evidence for increases in executive control after errors, leading to slowed responses that are more likely to be correct, and less susceptible to response congruency effects. Here we investigate whether failures of perceptual awareness, rather than failures at decisional or response stages of information processing, lead to similar adjustments in visual attention. We employed an attentional blink task in which subjects often fail to consciously register the second of two targets embedded in a rapid serial visual presentation stream of distractors, and examined how target errors influence performance on subsequent trials. Performance was inferior after Target 2 errors and these inter-trial effects were independent of the temporal lag between the targets and were not due to more global changes in attention across runs of trials. These results shed light on the nature of attentional calibration in response to failures of perceptual consciousness.
    Full-text · Article · Apr 2013 · PLoS ONE
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