Original Article

Psychological Research

, Volume 69, Issue 3, pp 191-200

First online:

The attentional blink: Resource depletion or temporary loss of control?

  • Vincent Di LolloAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of British Columbia Email author 
  • , Jun-ichiro KawaharaAffiliated withHiroshima University
  • , S.M. Shahab GhorashiAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of British Columbia
  • , James T. EnnsAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, University of British Columbia

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Identification of the second of two targets is impaired if it is presented less than about 500 ms after the first. Theoretical accounts of this second-target deficit, known as attentional blink (AB), have relied on some form of limited attentional resource that is allocated to the leading target at the expense of the trailing target. Three experiments in the present study reveal a failure of resource-limitation accounts to explain why the AB is absent when the targets consist of a stream of three items belonging to the same category (e.g., letters or digits). The AB is reinstated, however, if an item from a different category is inserted in the target string. This result, and all major results in the AB literature, is explained by the hypothesis that the AB arises from a temporary loss of control over the prevailing attentional set. This lapse in control renders the observer vulnerable to an exogenously-triggered switch in attentional set.