Background: The present study aimed to investigate the time course of electrocortical facilitation for affectively arousing written words during the so-called 'attentional blink' (AB) period in a rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP) task. The AB refers to a period of reduced awareness for second-target stimuli following a first target by an interval of about 200-500 ms. Pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant written verbs were used as second targets in an 8.6-Hz RSVP paradigm that contained affectively neutral words as distractors. Replicating and extending behavioral studies, we expected that emotional second targets would be associated with better identification accuracy and greater electrocortical activity, compared with neutral targets.
Results: The steady-state visual evoked potential was recorded using 129 scalp electrodes. The time-varying energy at the presentation frequency of 8.6 Hz was extracted as a continuous measure of electrocortical activity related to the RSVP stream. Behavioral data showed that at an inter-target interval of 232 ms, the report for emotionally arousing (pleasant and unpleasant) words was more accurate than for neutral control words. This result was mirrored by the electrocortical response at posterior sensors, which showed rapid amplitude enhancement (120-270 ms after T2 onset) for pleasant and unpleasant targets specifically.
Conclusion: The present data suggest that identification facilitation for emotionally arousing target words in the AB is related to rapid enhancement of sensory processing. Affectively arousing information is preferentially selected at the level of early perceptual analysis, leading to facilitation at later stages of processing, including consolidation in working memory and visual awareness.