, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 739-743

Delayed working memory consolidation during the attentional blink

Abstract

After the detection of a target (T1) in a rapid stream of visual stimuli, there is a period of 400–600 msec during which a subsequent target (T2) is missed. This impairment in performance has been labeled the attentional blink. Recent theories propose that the attentional blink reflects a bottleneck in working memory consolidation such that T2 cannot be consolidated until after T1 is consolidated, and T2 is therefore masked by subsequent stimuli if it is presented while T1 is being consolidated. In support of this explanation, Giesbrecht & Di Lollo (1998) found that when T2 is the final item in the stimulus stream, no attentional blink is observed, because there are no subsequent stimuli that might mask T2. To provide a direct test of this explanation of the attentional blink, in the present study we used the P3 component of the event-related potential waveform to track the processing of T2. When T2 was followed by a masking item, we found that the P3 wave was completely suppressed during the attentional blink period, indicating that T2 was not consolidated in working memory. When T2 was the last item in the stimulus stream, however, we found that the P3 wave was delayed but not suppressed, indicating that T2 consolidation was not eliminated but simply delayed. These results are consistent with a fundamental limit on the consolidation of information in working memory.

This study was supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health (MH56877), the National Science Foundation (SBR 98-09126), and the Human Frontier Science Program (RG0136).