Revisiting within-modality and cross-modality attentional blinks: effects of target-distractor similarity

Percept Psychophys. 2004 Oct;66(7):1147-61. doi: 10.3758/bf03196842.


When two masked targets (T1 and T2) require attention and are presented within half a second of each other, the report accuracy for T2 is reduced, relative to when the two targets are presented farther apart in time. This effect is known as the attentional blink (AB). Potter, Chun, Banks, and Muckenhoupt (1998) argued that all AB-like effects observed when at least one of the targets was presented outside of the visual modality did not represent true instances of the AB, but instead were artifacts of task-set switching. However, in the Potter et al. experiments the presence or absence of task-set switching opportunities was confounded with the T2 task, as well as the alphanumeric class of T2 with respect to the distractors. In the present experiment, we examine the influence of T1 alphanumeric class, T2 alphanumeric class, and switching operations in a fully crossed design that unconfounds these factors. In contrast to the conclusions of Potter et al., the present results suggest that the T2 alphanumeric class can account for the pattern of ABs observed across conditions, without necessarily implicating a separate switch cost. The implications for theoretical models of the AB and the debate over the validity of cross-modal ABs are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Discrimination Learning*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Reaction Time*
  • Refractory Period, Psychological*
  • Reversal Learning
  • Serial Learning
  • Speech Perception