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 10Hz) 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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