Dissociating between the N2pc and attentional shifting: An attentional blink study

Neuropsychologia. 2018 Dec;121:153-163. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.11.003. Epub 2018 Nov 9.

Abstract

The N2pc is routinely used as an electrophysiological index of attentional shifting. Its absence is thus taken as evidence that no shift of attention occurred. We provide evidence in contrast to this notion using a variant of the attentional blink (AB) paradigm. Two target letters, embedded in two streams of distractor letters and defined by their color, were separated by either 300 or 800 ms. The second target was preceded by a distractor frame of the same color (cue). As expected, identification of the second target was poorer at the short than at the long lag (the AB effect). The AB did not affect attentional capture by the cue, but suppressed and delayed the N2pc associated with it. This result suggests that the N2pc does not reflect attentional shifting. Instead, we conclude that the N2pc indexes the transient enhancement that occurs at the spatial focus of attention and promotes high-level processing such as identification. This conclusion calls for a reinterpretation of findings from the attentional capture literature that relied on the N2pc as an index of attentional shifting. Our results also inform contemporary models of the AB.

Keywords: Attentional blink; Attentional capture; Attentional engagement; Attentional shifting; N2pc.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Attentional Blink / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time
  • Young Adult