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Attentional blink (AB) is a phenomenon observed in Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP). Attentional blink is when a subject detects one target stimulus in a stream of distractors but then fails to detect a second, different target presented within about 500ms of the first. The precise mechanism behind AB is unknown, but it is believed to be a product of the system by which we select particular simuli for in-depth processing in order to make optimum use of limited processing resources.
Attentional Blink can be moderated by changes in visual similarity between targets and distractors, but it can also be affected by conceptual similarities, suggesting that stimuli are processed to quite a deep level preconsciously, with much of the resulting information discarded before it reaches consciousness.
One curious aspect of AB is that it usually includes "lag 1 sparing" meaning that targets presented very close together in time (at "lag 1" or 1 presentation apart in the RSVP stream) do not show attentional blink, even though items presented at slightly greater lags show strong AB. There is as yet no conclusive explanation for the phenomenon of lag 1 sparing, although it is thought to be related to the first, selection, stage in a two-stage process of stimulus selection and processing.
Attentional blink is related to, but distinct from, the phenomenon of Repetition blindness.
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Raymond, J. E., Shapiro, K. L., & Arnell, K. M. (1992). Temporary suppression of visual processing in an RSVP task: An attentional blink? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 18(3), 849-860. Abstract
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