Psychological Research

, 70:425 | Cite as

How the brain blinks: towards a neurocognitive model of the attentional blink

  • Bernhard HommelEmail author
  • Klaus Kessler
  • Frank Schmitz
  • Joachim Gross
  • Elkan Akyürek
  • Kimron Shapiro
  • Alfons Schnitzler
Original Article


When people monitor a visual stream of rapidly presented stimuli for two targets (T1 and T2), they often miss T2 if it falls into a time window of about half a second after T1 onset—the attentional blink (AB). We provide an overview of recent neuroscientific studies devoted to analyze the neural processes underlying the AB and their temporal dynamics. The available evidence points to an attentional network involving temporal, right-parietal and frontal cortex, and suggests that the components of this neural network interact by means of synchronization and stimulus-induced desynchronization in the beta frequency range. We set up a neurocognitive scenario describing how the AB might emerge and why it depends on the presence of masks and the other event(s) the targets are embedded in. The scenario supports the idea that the AB arises from “biased competition”, with the top–down bias being generated by parietal–frontal interactions and the competition taking place between stimulus codes in temporal cortex.


Attentional Blink Rapid Serial Visual Presentation Attentional Network Object File Rapid Serial Visual Presentation Stream 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Support for this research by Volkswagenstiftung in the form of a project grant to BH, KS, and AS is gratefully acknowledged. We are also grateful to Andre Achim, Pierre Jolicœur, and an anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on a previous version of this paper. Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to Bernhard Hommel, Leiden University, Department of Psychology, Cognitive Psychology Unit, Postbus 9555, 2300 RB Leiden, The Netherlands;


  1. Adcock RA, Constable RT, Gore JC, Goldman-Rakic PS (2000). Functional neuroanatomy of executive processes involved in dual-task performance, Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97:3567–3572Google Scholar
  2. Arnell KM, Helion AM, Hurdelbrink JA, Pasieka B (2004). Dissociating sources of dual-task interference using human electrophysiology. Psychon Bull Rev 11:77–83PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Behrmann M, Geng JJ, Shomstein S (2004). Parietal cortex and attention. Curr Opin Neurobiol 2:212–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bibbig A, Traub RD, Whittington MA (2002). Long-range synchronization of gamma and beta oscillations and the plasticity of excitatory and inhibitory synapses: a network model. J Neurophysiol 88:1634–1654PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Brehaut J, Enns JT, Di Lollo V (1999). Visual masking plays two roles in the attentional blink. Percept Psychophys, 61:1436–1448PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Broadbent DE, Broadbent MH (1987). From detection to identification: response to multiple targets in rapid serial visual presentation. Percept Psychophys 42:105–113PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Bundesen C (1990). A theory of visual attention. Psychol Rev 97:523–547CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. Chun MM, Potter MC (1995). A two-stage model for multiple target detection in rapid serial visual presentation. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 21:109–127CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Corbetta M, Kincade MJ, Ollinger J, McAvoy MP, Shulman GL (2000). Voluntary orienting is dissociated from target detection in human posterior parietal cortex. Nat Neurosci 3:292–297CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Dehaene S, Naccache L, Cohen L, LeBihan D, Mangin JF, Poline J-B, Rivière D (2001). Cerebral mechanisms of word masking and unconscious repetition priming. Nat Neurosci 4:752–758CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. Dehaene S, Sergent C, Changeux J-P (2003) A neuronal network model linking subjective reports and objective physiological data during conscious perception. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:8520–8525CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Dell’Acqua R, Jolicœur P, Pesciarelli F, Job R, Palomba D (2003) Electrophysiological evidence of visual encoding deficits in a crossmodal attentional blink paradigm. Psychophysiology 40:629–639CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Desimone R, Duncan J (1995) Neural mechanisms of selective visual attention. Annu Rev Neurosci 18:193–222CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. D’Esposito M, Detre JA, Alsop DC, Shin RK, Atlas S, Grossman M (1995) The neural basis of the central executive system of working memory. Nature 378:279–281CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Di Lollo V, Kawahara J-I, Ghorashi S M, Enns JT (2005). The attentional blink: resource depletion or temporary loss of control? Psychological Research, in pressGoogle Scholar
  16. Donchin E. (1981). Surprise! ... Surprise? Psychophysiology 18:493–513PubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Downar J, Crawley AP, Mikulis DJ, Davis KD (2001) The effect of task-relevance on the cortical response to changes in visual and auditory stimuli: an event-related fMRI study. Neuroimage 14:1256–1267CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Duncan J (1996) Cooperating brain systems in selective perception and action. In: Inui T, McClelland JL (eds), Attention and performance XVI. MIT, Cambridge, pp 549–578Google Scholar
  19. Duncan J, Humphreys GW (1989) Visual search and stimulus similarity. Psychol Rev 96:433–458CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Duncan J, Ward R, Shapiro KL (1994) Direct measurement of attentional dwell time in human vision. Nature 369:313–315CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Feinstein JS, Stein MB, Castillo GN, Paulus MP (2005) From sensory to conscious perception. Conscious and Cogn, in pressGoogle Scholar
  22. Fell J, Klaver P, Elger CE, Fernandez G (2002) Suppression of EEG Gamma activity may cause the attentional blink. Conscious Cogn 11:114–122CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Friedman-Hill SR, Robertson LC, Ungerleider LG, Desimone R (2003) Posterior parietal cortex and the filtering of distractors. Proc Natl Acad Sci 100:4263–4268CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  24. Giesbrecht B, Kingstone A (2004) Right hemisphere involvement in the attentional blink: evidence from a split-brain patient. Brain Cogn 55:303–306CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Goldberg ME, Bisley J, Powell KD, Gottlieb J, Kusunoki M (2002) The role of the lateral intraparietal area of the monkey in the generation of saccades and visuospatial attention. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 956:205–215Google Scholar
  26. Gross J, Schmitz F, Schnitzler I, Kessler K, Shapiro K, Hommel B, Schnitzler A (2004) Long-range neural synchrony predicts temporal limitations of visual attention in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:13050–13055CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Hommel B (2004) Event files: feature binding in and across perception and action. Trends Cogn Sci 8:494–500CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Hommel B, Akyürek EG (2005) Lag-1 sparing in the attentional blink: benefits and costs of integrating two events into a single episode. Q J Exp Psychol (A), (in press)Google Scholar
  29. Jolicœur P,& Dell’Acqua R (1998) The demonstration of short-term consolidation. Cogn Psychol 36:138–202CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Jolicœur P, Dell’Acqua R, Crebolder J (2000) Multitasking performance deficits: forging links between the attentional blink and the psychological refractory period. In: S Monsell, J Driver (eds) Control of cognitive processes: attention and performance MIT, Cambridge, pp 309–330Google Scholar
  31. Jolicœur P, Tombu M, Oriet C, Stevanovski B (2002) From perception to action: making the connection. In: W Prinz, B Hommel (eds) Common mechanisms in perception and action: attention and performance XIX. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 558–586Google Scholar
  32. Kessler K, Schmitz F, Gross J, Hommel B, Shapiro K, Schnitzler A (2005a) Target consolidation under high temporal processing demands as revealed by MEG. Neuroimage, in pressGoogle Scholar
  33. Kessler K, Schmitz F, Gross J, Hommel B, Shapiro K, Schnitzler A (2005b) Cortical mechanisms of attention in time: neural correlates of the Lag-1 sparing phenomenon. Eur J Neurosci, in pressGoogle Scholar
  34. Kopell N, Ermentrout GB, Whittington MA, Traub RD (2000). Gamma rhythms and beta rhythms have different synchronization properties. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 97:1867–1872CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Kranczioch C, Debener S, Engel AE (2003) Event-related potential correlates of the attentional blink phenomenon. Cogn Brain Res 17:177–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Kristofferson AB (1967) Successiveness discrimination as a two-state, quantal process. Science 158:1337–1339PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Liang H, Bressler SL, Ding M, Truccolo WA, Nakamura R (2002) Synchronized activity in prefrontal cortex during anticipation of visuomotor processing. Neuroreport 13:2011–2015CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Luck S, Vogel E, Shapiro K (1996) Word meanings can be accessed but not reported during the attentional blink. Nature 383:616–618CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Lupiáñez J, Milliken B (1999) Exogenous cuing effects and the attentional set for integrating vs. differentiating information. J Gen Psychol 126:392–418PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Lupiáñez J, Milliken B, Solano C, Weaver B, Tipper SP (2001) On the strategic modulation of the time course of facilitation and inhibition of return. Q J Exp Psychol 54A:753–773CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Marcantoni WS, Lepage M, Beaudoin G, Bourgouin P, Richer F (2003) Neural correlates of dual task interference in rapid visual streams: an fMRI study. Brain Cogn 53:318–321CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  42. Marois R, Chun MM, Gore JC (2000). Neural correlates of the attentional blink. Neuron 28:299–308CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  43. Marois R, Yi D-J, Chun MM (2004). The neural fate of consciously perceived and missed events in the attentional blink. Neuron 41:465–472CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  44. McArthur G, Budd T, Michie P (1999) The attentional blink and P300. Neuroreport 10:3691–3695PubMedGoogle Scholar
  45. Menon V, Ford JM, Lim KO, Glover GH, Pfefferbaum A (1997) Combined event-related fMRI and EEG evidence for temporal-parietal cortex activation during target detection. Neuroreport 8:3029–3037PubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. Milner B (1968) Visual recognition and recall after right temporal-lobe excision in man. Neuropsychologia 6:191–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pöppel E (1997) A hierarchical model of temporal perception. Trends Cogn Sci 1:56–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Potter MC, Chun MM, Banks BS, Muckenhoupt M (1998) Two attentional deficits in serial target search: the visual attentional blink and an amodal task-switch deficit. J Exp Psychol Learn Mem Cogn 25:979–992Google Scholar
  49. Potter MC, Staub A, O’Connor DH (2002) The time course of competition for attention: attention is initially labile. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 28:1149–1162CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  50. Raymond JE (2003) New objects, not new features, trigger the attentional blink. Psychol Sci 14:54–59CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  51. Raymond JE, Shapiro KL, Arnell KM (1992) Temporary suppression of visual processing in an RSVP task: an attentional blink? J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 18:849–860CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Richer F, Lepage M (1996) Frontal lesions increase post-target interference in rapid stimulus streams. Neuropsychologia 34:509–514CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  53. Richer F, Bédard S, Lepage M, Chouinard MJ (1998) Frontal lesions produce a dual task deficit in simple rapid choices. Brain Cogn 37:173–175Google Scholar
  54. Rolke B, Heil M, Streb J, Henninghausen E (2001) Missed prime words within the attentional blink evoke an N400 semantic priming effect. Psychophysiology 38:165–174CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  55. Shapiro KL (2001) Temporal methods for studying attention: how did we get there and where are we going? In: K Shapiro (ed.) The limits of attention: temporal constraints in human information processing. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 1–19Google Scholar
  56. Shapiro KL, Raymond JE, Arnell KM (1994) Attention to visual pattern information produces the attentional blink in rapid serial visual presentation. J Exp Psychol Hum Percept Perform 20:357–371CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Shapiro K, Hillstrom AP, Husain M (2002) Control of visuotemporal attention by inferior parietal and superior temporal cortex. Curr Biol 12:1320–1325CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Sheppard D, Duncan J, Shapiro K, Hillstrom AP (2002) Objects and events in the attentional blink. Psychol Sci 13:410–415CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  59. Szameitat AJ, Schubert T, Müller K, Von Cramon DY (2002) Localization of executive functions in dual-task performance with fMRI. J Cogn Neurosci 14:1184–1199CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Treisman A (1996) The binding problem. Curr Opin Neurobiol 6:171–178CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Turvey MT (1973) On peripheral and central processes in vision: inferences from an information-processing analysis of masking with patterned stimuli. Psychol Rev 80:1–52PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Visser TAW, Bischof WF, Di Lollo (1999). Attentional switching in spatial and non-spatial domains: evidence from the attentional blink. Psychol Bull 125:458–469CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Vogel EK, Luck SJ (2002) Delayed working memory consolidation during the attentional blink. Psychon Bull Rev 9:739–743PubMedGoogle Scholar
  64. Von Stein A, Rappelsberger P, Sarnthein J, Petsche H (1999) Synchronization between temporal and parietal cortex during multimodal object processing in man. Cereb Cortex 9:137–150CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Waszak F, Hommel B, Allport A (2005) Interaction of task readiness and automatic retrieval in task-switching: negative priming and competitor priming. Mem Cognit, in pressGoogle Scholar
  66. Waszak F, Hommel B, Allport A (2003) Task-switching and long-term priming: role of episodic stimulus-task bindings in task-shift costs. Cogn Psychol 46:361–413CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  67. Wojciulik E, Kanwisher N (1999) The generality of parietal involvement in visual attention. Neuron 23:747–764CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  68. Wrobel A (2000) Beta activity: a carrier for visual attention. Acta Neurobiol Exp 60:247–260Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bernhard Hommel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Klaus Kessler
    • 2
  • Frank Schmitz
    • 2
  • Joachim Gross
    • 2
  • Elkan Akyürek
    • 1
  • Kimron Shapiro
    • 3
  • Alfons Schnitzler
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Cognitive Psychology UnitLeiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Heinrich Heine UniversityDüsseldorfGermany
  3. 3.University of WalesBangorWales

Personalised recommendations